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FOR the study of the great writers and thinkers of the past, 
historical imagination is the first necessity. Without mentally 
referring to the environment in which they lived, we cannot 
hope to penetrate below the inessential and temporary to the 
absolute and permanent value of their thought. Theory, no 
less than action, is subject to these necessities; the form in 
which men cast their speculations, no less than the ways in 
which they behave, are the result of the habits of thought and 
action which they find around them. Great men make, indeed, 
individual contributions to the knowledge of their times ; but 
they can never transcend the age in which they live. The 
questions they try to answer will always be those *heir con 
temporaries are asking; their statement of fundamental 
problems will always be relative to the traditional statements 
that have been handed down to them. When they are stating 
what is most startlingly new, they will be most likely to put 
it in an old-fashioned form, and to use the inadequate ideas 
and formulae of tradition to express the deeper truths towards 
which they are feeling their way. They will be most the 
children of their age, when they are rising most above it. 

Rousseau has suffered as much as any one from critics with 
out a sense of history. He has been cried up and cried down 
by democrats and oppressors with an equal lack of understand 
ing and imagination. His name, a hundred and fifty years 
after the publication of the Social Contract, is still a con 
troversial watchword and a party cry. He is accepted as one 
of the greatest writers France has produced ; but even now 
men are inclined, as political bias prompts them, to accept or 
reject his political doctrines as a whole, without sifting them 
or attempting to understand and discriminate. He is still 
revered or hated as the author who, above all others, inspired 
the French Revolution. 

At the present day, his works possess a double significance. 
They are important historically, alike as giving us an insight 

viii Introduction 

into the mind of the eighteenth century, and for the actual 
influence they have had on the course of events in Europe. 
Certainly no other writer of the time has exercised such an 
influence as his. He may fairly be called the parent of the 
romantic movement in art, letters and life ; he affected pro 
foundly the German romantics and Goethe himself ; he set the 
fashion of a new introspection which has permeated nineteenth 
century literature; he began modern educational theory; and, 
above all, in political thought he represents the passage from a 
traditional theory rooted in the Middle Ages to the modern 
philosophy of the State. His influence on Kant s moral philo 
sophy and on Hegel s philosophy of Right are two sides of the 
same fundamental contribution to" modern thought. He is, 
in fact, the great forerunner of German and English Idealism. 

It would not be possible, in the course of a short introduc 
tion, to deal both with the positive content of Rousseau s 
thought and with the actual influence he has had on practical 
affairs. The statesmen of the French Revolution, from Robes 
pierre downwards, were throughout profoundly affected by the 
study of his works. Though they seem often to have misunder 
stood him, they had on the whole studied him with the attention 
he demands. In the nineteenth century, men continued to 
appeal to Rousseau, without, as a rule, knowing him well or 
penetrating deeply into his meaning. "The Social Contract," 
says M. Dreyfus-Brisac, "is the book of all books that is most 
talked of and least read." But with the great revival of 
interest in political philosophy there has come a desire for the 
better understanding of Rousseau s work. He is again being 
studied more as a thinker and less as an ally or an opponent; 
there is more eagerness to sift the true from the false, and to 
seek in the Social Contract the "principles of political right," 
rather than the great revolutionary s ipse dixit in favour of 
some view about circumstances which he could never have 

The Social Contract, then, may be regarded either as a docu 
ment of the French Revolution, or as one of the greatest books 
dealing with political philosophy. It is in the second capacity, 
as a work of permanent value containing truth, that it finds a 
place among the world s great books. It is in that capacity 
also that it will be treated in this introduction. Taking it in 
this aspect, we have no less need of historical insight than if 
we came to it as historians pure and simple. To understand 

Introduction ix 

its value we must grasp its limitations; when the questions it 
answers seem unnaturally put, we must not conclude that they 
are meaningless; we must see if the answer still holds when 
the question is put in a more up-to-date form. 

First, then, we must always remember that Rousseau is writ 
ing in the eighteenth century, and for the most part in France. 
Neither the French monarchy nor the Genevese aristocracy 
loved outspoken criticism, and Rousseau had always to be very 
careful what he said. This may seem a curious statement to 
make about a man who suffered continual persecution on 
account of his subversive doctrines ; but, although Rousseau 
was one of the most daring writers of his time, he was forced 
continually to moderate his language and, as a rule, to confine 
himself to generalisation instead of attacking particular abuses. 
Rousseau s theory has often been decried as too abstract and 
metaphysical. This is in many ways its great strength ; but 
where it is excessively so, the accident of time is to blame. 
In the eighteenth century it was, broadly speaking, safe to 
generalise and unsafe to particularise. Scepticism and discon 
tent were the prevailing temper of the intellectual classes, and 
a short-sighted despotism held that, as long as they were con 
fined to these, they would do little harm. Subversive doctrines 
were only regarded as dangerous when they were so put as to 
appeal to the masses ; philosophy was regarded as impotent. 
The intellectuals of the eighteenth century therefore generalised 
to their hearts content, and as a rule suffered little for their 
ttse-mujest4 : Voltaire is the typical example of such general 
isation. The spirit of the age favoured such methods, and it 
was therefore natural for Rousseau to pursue them. But his 
general remarks had such a way of bearing very obvious par 
ticular applications, and were so obviously inspired by a 
particular attitude towards the government of his day, that 
even philosophy became in his hands unsafe, and he was 
attacked for what men read between the lines of his works. It 
is owing to this faculty of giving his generalisations content 
and actuality that Rousseau has become the father of modern 
political philosophy. He uses the method of his time only to 
transcend it; out of the abstract and general he creates the 
concrete and universal. 

Secondly, we must not forget that Rousseau s theories are 
to be studied in a wider historical environment. If he is the 
first of modern political theorists, he is also the last of a long 

x Introduction 

Kiie of Renaissance theorists, who in turn inherit and trans 
form the concepts of mediaeval thought. So many critics have 
spent so much wasted time in proving that Rousseau was not 
original only because they began by identifying originality with 
isolation : they studied first the Social Contract by itself, out of 
relation to earlier works, and then, having discovered that these 
earlier works resembled it, decided that everything it had to 
say was borrowed. Had they begun their study in a truly his 
torical spirit, they would have seen that Rousseau s importance 
lies just in the new use he makes of old ideas, in the transition 
he makes from old to new in the general conception of politics. 
No mere innovator could have exercised such an influence or 
hit on so much truth. / Theory makes no great leaps ; it pro 
ceeds to new concepts by the adjustment and renovation of old 
ones. Just as theological writers on politics, from Hooker to 
Bossuet, make use of Biblical terminology and ideas; just as 
more modern writers, from Hegel to Herbert Spencer, make 
use of the concept of evolution, Rousseau uses the ideas and 
terms of the Social Contract theory. We should feel, through 
out his work, his struggle to free himself from what is lifeless 
and outworn in that theory, while he develops out of it fruitful 
conceptions that go beyond its scope. A too rigid literalism in 
the interpretation of Rousseau s thought may easily reduce it 
to the possession of a merely " historical interest " : if we 
approach it in a truly historical spirit, we shall be able to 
appreciate at once its temporary and its lasting value, to see 
how it served his contemporaries, and at the same time to 
disentangle from it what may be serviceable to us and for all 

Rousseau s Emile, the greatest of all works on education, has 
already been issued in this series. In this volume are contained 
the most important of his political works. Of these the Social 
Contract, by far the most significant, is the latest in date. It 
represents the maturity of his thought, while the other works 
only illustrate his development. Born in 1712, he issued no 
work of importance till 1750; but he tells us, in the Confessions, 
that in 1743, when he was attached to the Embassy at Venice, 
he had already conceived the idea of a great work on Political 
Institutions, " which was to put the seal on his reputation." 
He seems, however, to have made little progress with this work, 
until in 1749 he happened to light on the announcement of a 
prize offered by the Academy of Dijon for an answer to the 

Introduction xi 

question, "Has the progress of the arts and sciences tended 
to the purification or to the corruption of morality?" His old 
ideas came thronging back, and sick at heart of the life he had 
been leading among the Paris lumieres, he composed a violent 
and rhetorical diatribe against civilisation generally. In the 
following year, this work, having been awarded the prize by 
the Academy, was published by its author. His success was 
instantaneous; he became at once a famous man, the "lion" 
of Parisian literary circles. Refutations of his work were 
issued by professors, scribblers, outraged theologians and even 
by the King of Poland. Rousseau endeavoured to answer them 
all, and in the course of argument his thought developed. 
From 1750 to the publication of the Social Contract and Emile 
in 1762 he gradually evolved, his views : in those twelve years 
he made his unique contribution to political thought. 

The Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, the earliest of the 
works reproduced in this volume, is not in itself of very great 
importance. Rousseau has given his opinion of it in the 
Confessions. "Full of warmth and force, it is wholly without 
logic or order; of all my works it is the weakest in argument 
and the least harmonious. But whatever gifts a man may be 
born with, he cannot learn the art of writing in a moment." 
This criticism is just. The first Discourse neither is, nor 
attempts to be, a reasoned or a balanced production. It is the 
speech of an advocate, wholly one-sided and arbitrary, but so 
obviously and naively one-sided, that it is difficult for us to 
believe in its entire seriousness. At the most, it is only a rather 
brilliant but flimsy rhetorical effort, a sophistical improvisation, 
but not a serious contribution to thought. Yet it is certain that 
this declamation t^ade Rousseau s name, and established his 
position as a great writer in Parisian circles. D Alembert even 
devoted the preface of the Encyclopcedia to a refutation. The 
plan of the first Discourse is essentially simple: it sets out 
from the badness, immorality and misery of modern nations, 
trace- all these ills to the departure from a "natural" state, 
and then credits the progress of the arti, ,:nu sconces with 
being the cause of that departure. In it, Rousseau is already 
in possession of his idea of "nature " as an ideal; but he has 
at present made no attempt to discriminate, fa what : s un 
natural, between good and bad. He is merely using a single 
idea, putting it as strongly as he can, and ne.glec.dng- nil its 
limitations. The first Discourse is important not for any post- 

xii Introduction 

live doctrine it contains, but as a key to the development of 
Rousseau s mind. Here we see him at the beginning of the 
long journey which was to lead on at last to ihe theory of the 
Social Contract. 

In 1755 appeared the Discourse on the Origin and Founda 
tion of Inequality among Men, which is the second of the works 
given in this volume. With this essay, Rousseau had unsuc 
cessfully competed in 1753 for a second prize offered by the 
Academy of Dijon, and he now issued it prefaced by a long 
Dedication to the Republic of Geneva. In this work, which 
Voltaire, in thanking him for a presentation copy, termed his 
"second book against the human race," his style and his ideas 
have made a great advance; he is no longer content merely to 
push a single idea to extremes : while preserving the broad 
opposition between the state of nature and the state of society, 
which runs through all his work, he is concerned to present a 
rational justification of his views and to admit that a little at 
any rate may be said on the other side. Moreover, the idea of 
"nature" has already undergone a great development; it is no 
longer an empty opposition to the evils of society ; it possesses 
a positive content. Thus half the Discourse on Inequality is 
occupied by an imaginary description of the state of nature, in 
which man is shown with ideas limited within the narrowest 
range, with little need of his fellows, and little care beyond 
provision for the necessities of the moment. Rousseau declares 
explicitly that he does not suppose the "state of nature" ever 
to have existed : it is a pure "idea of reason," a working con 
cept reached by abstraction from the "state of society." The 
"natural man," as opposed to "man s man," is man stripped 
of all that society confers upon him, a creature formed by a 
process of abstraction, and never intended for a historical por 
trait. The conclusion of the Discourse favours not this purely 
abstract being, but a state of savagery intermediate between 
the "natural" and the "social" conditions, in which men may 
preserve the simplicity and the advantages of nature and at the 
same time secure the rude comforts and assurances of early 
society. In one of the long notes appended to the Discourse, 
Rousseau further explains his position. He does not wish, 
he says, that modern corrupt society should return to a state of 
nature : corruption has gone too far for that ; he only desires 
now that men should palliate, by wiser use of the fatal arts, 
the mistake of their introduction. He recognises society as 

Introduction xiii 

inevitable and is already feeling his way towards a justification 
of it. The second Discourse represents a second stage in his 
political thought : the opposition between the state of nature 
and the state of society is still presented in naked contrast ; 
but the picture of the former has already filled out, and it only 
remains for Rousseau to take a nearer view of the fundamental 
implications of the state of society for his thought to reach 

Rousseau is often blamed, by modern critics, for pursuing in 
the Discourses a method apparently that of history, but in 
reality wholly unhistorical. But it must be remembered that 
he himself lays no stress on the historical aspect of his work ; 
he gives himself out as constructing a purely ideal picture, and 
not as depicting any actual stages in human history. The use 
of false historical concepts is characteristic of the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries, and Rousseau is more to be con 
gratulated on having escaped from giving them too much 
importance than criticised for employing them at all. 

It is doubtful whether the Discourse on Political Economy, 
first printed in the great Encyclopedia in 1755, was composed 
before or after the Discourse on Inequality. At first sight the 
former seems to be far more in the manner of the Social Con 
tract and to contain views belonging essentially to Rousseau s 
constructive period. It would not, however, be safe to conclude 
from this that its date is really later. The Discourse on In 
equality still has about it much of the rhetorical looseness of 
the prize essay ; it aims not so much at close reasoning as at 
effective and popular presentation of a case. But, by reading 
between the lines, an attentive student can detect in it a great 
deal of the positive doctrine afterwards incorporated in the 
Social Contract. Especially in the closing section, which lays 
down the plan of a general treatment of the fundamental ques 
tions of politics, we are already to some extent in the atmosphere 
of the later works. It is indeed almost certain that Rousseau 
never attempted to put into either of the first two Discourses 
any of the positive content of his political theory. They were 
intended, not as final expositions of his point of view, but as 
partial and preliminary studies, in which his aim was far more 
destructive than constructive. It is clear that in first conceiv 
ing the plan of a work on Political Institutions, Rousseau 
cannot have meant to regard all society as in essence bad. It 
is indeed evident that he meant, from the first, to study human 

xiv Introduction 

society and institutions in their rational aspect, and that he 
was rather diverted from his main purpose by the Academy of 
Dijon s competition than first induced by it to think about 
political questions. It need, therefore, cause no surprise that 
a work probably written before the Discourse on Inequality 
should contain the germs of the theory given in full in the Social 
Contract. The Discourse on Political Economy is important as 
giving the first sketch of the theory of the " General Will." 
It will readily be seen that Rousseau does not mean by 
"political economy" exactly what we mean nowadays. He 
begins with a discussion of the fundamental nature of the 
State, and the possibility of reconciling its existence with human 
liberty, and goes on with an admirable short study of the 
principles of taxation. He is thinking throughout of "politi 
cal" in the sense of "public" economy, of the State as the 
public financier, and not of the conditions governing industry. 
He conceives the State as a_body aiming at the well-being of 
all its members and subordinates all his views of taxation to 
that end. He who has only necessaries should not be taxed 
at all ; superfluities should be supertaxed ; there should be 
heavy imposts on every sort of luxury. The first part of the 
article is still more interesting. Rousseau begins by demolish 
ing the exaggerated parallel so often drawn between the State 
and the family; he shows that the State is not, and cannot 
be, patriarchal in nature, and goes on to lay down his view that 
its real being consists in the General Will of its members. 
The essential features of the Social Contract are present in this 
Discourse almost as if they were commonplaces, certainly not 
as if they were new discoveries on which the author had just 
hit by some happy inspiration. There is every temptation, after 
reading the Political Economy, to suppose that Rousseau s 
political ideas really reached maturity far earlier than has 
generally been allowed. 

The Social Contract finally appeared, along with Emile, in 
1762. This year, therefore, represents in every respect the 
culmination of Rousseau s career. Henceforth, he was to write 
only controversial and confessional works ; his theories were 
now developed, and, simultaneously, he gave to the world his 
views on the fundamental problems of politics and education. 
It is now time to ask what Rousseau s system, in its maturity, 
finally amounted to. The Social Contract contains practically 
the whole of his constructive political theory ; it requires to be 

Introduction xv 

read, for full understanding, in connection with his other works, 
especially Emile and the Letters on lire Mount (1764), but in 
the main it is self-contained and complete. The title sufficiently 
defines its scope. It is called The Social Contract or Prin 
ciples of Political Right, and the second title explains the 
first. Rousseau s object is not to deal, in a general way, like 
Montesquieu, with the actual institutions of existing States, but 
to lay down the essential principles which must form the basis 
of every legitimate society. Rousseau himself, in the fifth 
book of the Emile, has stated the difference clearly. " Montes 
quieu," he says, "did not intend to treat of the principles of 
political right; he was content to treat of the positive right 
(or law) of established governments; and no two studies could 
be more different than these." Rousseau then conceives his 
object as being something very different from that of the Spirit 
of the Laws, and it is a wilful error to misconstrue his purpose. 
When he remarks that "the facts," the actual history of 
political societies, "do not concern him," he is not contemptu 
ous of facts ; he is merely asserting the sure principle that a 
fact can in no case give rise to a right. His desire is to 
establish society on a basis of pure right, so as at once to 
disprove his attack on society generally and to reinforce his 
criticism of existing societies. 

Round this point centres the whole dispute about the methods 
proper to political theory. There are, broadly speaking, two 
schools of political theorists, if we set aside the psychologists. 
One school, by collecting facts, aims at reaching broad general 
isations about what actually happens in human societies; the 
other tries to penetrate to the universal principles at the root 
of all human combination. For the latter purpose facts may 
be useful, but in themselves they can prove nothing. The 
question is not one of fact, but one of right. 

Rousseau belongs essentially to this philosophical school. 
He is not, as his less philosophic critics seem to suppose, a 
purely abstract thinker generalising from imaginary historical 
instances ; he is a concrete thinker trying to get beyond the 
inessential and changing to the permanent and invariable basis 
of human society. Like Green, he is in search of the principle 
of political obligation, and beside this quest all others fall into 
their place as secondary and derivative. It is required " to find 
a form of association able to defend and protect with the whole 
common force the person and goods of every associate, and or 

xvi Introduction 

such a nature that each, uniting himself with all, may still 
obey only himself, and remain as free as before. This is the 
fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the 
solution." The problem of political obligation is seen as in 
cluding all other political problems, which fall into place in a 
system based upon it. How, Rousseau asks, can the will of 
the State help being for me a merely external will, imposing 
itself upon my own? How can the existence of the State be 
reconciled with human freedom? How can man, who is born 
free, rightly come to be everywhere in chains? 

No-one could help understanding the central problem of the 
Social Contract immediately, were it not that its doctrines often 
seem to be strangely formulated. We have seen that this 
strangeness is due to Rousseau s historical position, to his use 
of the political concepts current in his own age, and to his 
natural tendency to build on the foundations laid by his pre 
decessors. There are a great many people whose idea of 
Rousseau consists solely of the first words of the opening 
chapter of the Social Contract, "Man is born free, and every 
where he is in chains." But, they tell you, man is not born 
free, even if he is everywhere in chains. Thus at the very 
outset we are faced with the great difficulty in appreciating 
Rousseau. When we should naturally say "man ought to be 
free," or perhaps "man is born for freedom," he prefers to say 
"man is born free," by which he means exactly the same thing. 
There is doubtless, in his way of putting it, an appeal to a 
"golden age"; but this golden age is admittedly as imaginary 
as the freedom to which men are born is bound, for most of 
them, to be. Elsewhere Rousseau puts the point much as we 
might put it ourselves. "Nothing is more certain than that 
every man born in slavery is born for slavery. . . . But if there 
are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against 
nature " (Social Contract, Book I, chap. ii). 

We have seen that the contrast between the "state of nature" 
and the "state of society" runs through all Rousseau s work. 
The Emile is a plea for " natural " education ; the Discourses 
Are a plea for a " naturalisation " of society ; the New Hdlolse 
is the romantic s appeal for more "nature " in human relation 
ships. What then is the position of this contrast in Rousseau s 
mature political thought? It is clear that the position is not 
merely that of the Discourses. In them, he envisaged only the 
-faults of actual societies ; now, he is concerned with the possi- 

Introduction xvii 

bility of a rational society. His aim is to justify the change 
from "nature " to "society," although it has left men in chains. 
He is in search of the true society, which leaves men "as free 
as before." Altogether, the space occupied by the idea of 
nature in the Social Contract is very small. It is used of 
necessity in the controversial chapters, in which Rousseau is 
refuting false theories of social obligation ; but when once 
he has brushed aside the false prophets, he lets the idea of 
nature go with them, and concerns himself solely with giving 
society the rational sanction he has promised. It becomes clear 
that, in political matters at any rate, the "state of nature" is 
for him only a term of controversy. He has in effect aban 
doned, in so far as he ever held it, the theory of a human 
golden age ; and where, as in the Emile, he makes use of the 
idea of nature, it is broadened and deepened out of all recogni 
tion. Despite many passages in which the old terminology 
cleaves to him, he means by "nature" in this period not the 
original state of a thing, nor even its reduction to the simplest 
terms: he is passing over to the conception of "nature" as 
identical with the full development of capacity, with the higher 
idea of human freedom. This view may be seen in germ even 
in the Discourse on Inequality, where, distinguishing self- 
respect (amour de soi) from egoism (amour-propre), Rousseau 
makes the former, the property of the "natural" man, consist 
not in the desire for self-aggrandisement, but in the seeking 
of satisfaction for reasonable desire accompanied by benevo 
lence ; whereas egoism is the preference of our own interests to 
those of others, self-respect merely puts us on an equal footing 
with our fellows. It is true that in the Discourse Rousseau 
is pleading against the development of many human faculties ; 
but he is equally advocating the fullest development of those 
he regards as "natural," by which he means merely "good. 1 
The "state of society," as envisaged in the Social Contract, is 
no longer in contradiction to the "state of nature" upheld in 
the Emile, where indeed the social environment is of the 
greatest importance, and, though the pupil is screened from it, 
he is none the less being trained for it. Indeed the views given 
in the Social Contract are summarised in the fifth book of the 
Emile, and by this summary the essential unity of Rousseau s 
system is emphasised. 

Rousseau s object, then, in the first words of the Social 
Contract, "is to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be 

B 66o 

xviii Introduction 

any sure and certain rule of administration, taking men as they 
are and laws as they might be." Montesquieu took laws as 
they were, and saw what sort of men they made : Rousseau, 
founding his whole system on human freedom, takes man as 
the basis, and regards him as giving himself what laws he 
pleases. He takes his stand on the nature of human freedom : 
on this he bases his whole system, making the will of the 
members the sole basis of every society. 

tt. In working out his theory, Rousseau makes use throughout 
of three general and, to some extent, alternative conceptions. 
These are the Soc5al_Gojitrac.t, Sovereignty and the General 
Will. We shall now have to examine each of these in turn. 

The Social Contract theory is as old as the sophists of 
Greece (see Plato, Republic, Book II and the Gorgias), and as 
elusive. It has been adapted to the most opposite points of 
view, and used, in different forms, on both sides of every 
question to which it could conceivably be applied. It is fre 
quent in mediaeval writers, a commonplace with the theorists of 
the Renaissance, and in the eighteenth century already nearing 
its fall before a wider conception. It would be a long, as well 
as a thankless, task to trace its history over again : it may be 
followed best in D. G. Ritchie s admirable essay on it in 
Darwin and Hegel and Other Studies. For us, it is important 
only to regard it in its most general aspect, before studying 
the special use made of it by Rousseau. Obviously, in one 
form or another, it is a theory very easily arrived at. Wher 
ever any form of government apart from the merest tyranny- 
exists, reflection on the basis of_the State cannot but lead to 
the notion that, in one sense or another, it is based on the 
consent, tacit or expressed, past or present, of its members. In 
this alone, the greater part of the Social Contract theory is 
already latent. Add the desire to find actual justification for a 
theory in facts, and, especially in an age possessed only of the 
haziest historical sense, this doctrine of consent will inevitably 
be given a historical setting. If in addition there is a tendency 
to regard society as something unnatural to humanity, the 
tendency will become irresistible. By writers of almost all 
schools, the State will be represented as having arisen, in some 
remote age, out of a compact or, in more legal phrase, contract 
between two or more parties. The only class that will be able 
to resist the doctrine is that which maintains the divine right 
of kings, and holds that all existing governments were 

Introduction xix 

imposed on the people by the direct interposition of God. All 
who are not prepared to maintain that will be partisans of 
some form or other of the Social Contract theory. 

It is, therefore, not surprising that we find among its advo 
cates writers of the most opposite points of view. Barely 
stated, it is a mere formula, which may be filled in with any 
content from absolutism to pure republicanism. And, in the 
hands of some at least of its supporters, it turns out to be a 
weapon that cuts both ways. We shall be in a better position 
to judge of its usefulness when we have seen its chief varieties 
at work. 

&A11 Social Contract theories that are at all definite fall under 
one or other of two heads. They represent society as based 
on an original contract either between the people and the 
government, or between all the individuals composing the 
State. Historically, modern theory passes from the first to the 
second of these forms. 

The doctrine that society is founded on a contract between 
the people and the government is of mediaeval origin. It was 
often supported by references to the Old Testament, which 
contains a similar view in an unrefiective form. It is found in 
most of the great political writers of the sixteenth century ; in 
Buchanan, and in the writings of James I : it persists into the 
seventeenth in the works of Grotius and Puffendorf. Grotius 
is sometimes held to have stated the theory so as to admit 
both forms of contract ; but it is clear that he is only thinking 
of the first form as admitting democratic as well as monarchical 
government. We find it put very clearly by the Convention 
Parliament of 1688, which accuses James II of having "en 
deavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by 
breaking the original contract between king and people." 
While Hobbes, on the side of the royalists, is maintaining the 
contract theory in its second form, the Parliamentarian Algernon 
Sidney adheres to the idea of a contract between the people 
and the government. 

In this form, the theory clearly admits of opposite interpreta 
tions. It may be held that the people, having given itself up 
once for all to its rulers, has nothing more to ask of them, and 
is bound to submit to any usage they may choose to inflict. 
This, however, is not the implication most usually drawn from 
it. The theory, in this form, originated with theologians who 
were also lawyers. Their view of a contract implied mutual 

xx Introduction 

obligations; they regarded the ruler as bound, by its terms, to 
govern constitutionally. The old idea that a king must not 
violate the sacred customs of the realm passes easily into the 
doctrine that he must not violate the terms of the original con 
tract between himself and his people. Just as in the days of 
the Norman kings, every appeal on the part of the people for 
more liberties was couched in the form of a demand that the 
customs of the "good old times" of Edward the Confessor 
should be respected, so in the seventeenth century every act of 
popular assertion or resistance was stated as an appeal to the 
king not to violate the contract. The demand was a good 
popular cry, and it seemed to have the theorists behind it. 
Rousseau gives his refutation of this view, which he had, in 
the Discourse on Inequality, maintained in passing, in the 
sixteenth chapter of the third book of the Social Contract. 
(See also Book I, chap, iv, init.) His attack is really con 
cerned also with the theory of Hobbes, which in some respects 
resembles, as we shall see, this first view; but, in form at 
least, it is directed against this form of contract. It will be 
possible to examine it more closely, when the second view has 
been considered. 

The second view, which may be called the Social Contract 
theory proper, regards society as originating in, or based on, 
an agreement between the individuals composing it. It seems 
to be found first, rather vaguely, in Richard Hooker s Eccle 
siastical Polity, from which Locke largely borrowed : and it 
reappears, in varying forms, in Milton s Tenure of Kings and 
Magistrates, in Hobbes s Leviathan, in Locke s Treatises on 
Civil Government, and in Rousseau. The best-known instance 
of its actual use is by the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower 
in 1620, in whose declaration occurs the phrase, "We do 
solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and of one 
another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil 
body politic." The natural implication of this view would seem 
to be the corollary of complete popular Sovereignty which 
Rousseau draws. But before Rousseau s time it had been used 
to support views as diverse as those which rested on the first 
form. We saw that, in Grotius s great work, De Jure Belli 
et Pacts, it was already possible to doubt which of the two 
theories was being advocated. The first theory was, historic 
ally, a means of popular protest against royal aggression. As 
soon as popular government was taken into account, the act 

Introduction xxi 

of contract between people and government became in effect 
merely a contract between the individuals composing the 
society, and readily passed over into the second form. 

The second theory, in its ordinary form, expresses only the 
view that the people is everywhere Sovereign, and that, in the 
phrase of Milton s treatise, "the power of kings and magis 
trates is only derivative." Before, however, this view had been 
worked up into a philosophical theory, it had already been used 
by Hobbes to support precisely opposite principles. Hobbes 
agrees that the original contract is one between all the in 
dividuals composing the State, and that the government is no 
party to it; but he regards the people as agreeing, not merely 
to form a State, but to invest a certain person or certain 
persons with the government of it. He agrees that the 
people is naturally supreme, but regards it as alienating its 
Sovereignty by the contract itself, and delegating its power, 
wholly and for ever, to the government. As soon, therefore, 
as the State is set up, the government becomes for Hobbes 
the Sovereign ; there is no more question of popular Sove 
reignty, but only of passive obedience : the people is bound, 
by the contract, to obey its ruler, no matter whether he governs 
well or ill. It has alienated all its rights to the Sovereign, 
who is, therefore, absolute master. Hobbes, living in a time 
of civil wars, regards the worst government as better than 
anarchy, and is, therefore, at pains to find arguments in sup 
port of any form of absolutism. It is easy to pick holes in this 
system, and to see into what difficulties a conscientious Hobbist 
might be led by a revolution. For as soon as the revolution 
aries get the upper hand, he will have to sacrifice one of his 
principles : he will have to side against either the actual or the 
legitimate Sovereign. It is easy also to see that alienation 
of liberty, even if possible for an individual, which Rousseau 
denies, cannot bind his posterity. But, with all its faults, 
the view of Hobbes is on the whole admirably, if ruthlessly, 
logical, and to it Rousseau owes a great deal. 

The special shape given to the second Social Contract theory 
by Hobbes looks, at first sight, much like a combination, into 
a single act, of both the contracts. This, however, is not the 
view he adopts. The theory of a contract between government 
and people had, as we have seen, been used mainly as a sup 
port for popular liberties, a means of assertion against the 
government. Hobbes, whose whole aim is to make his govern- 

xxii Introduction 

ment Sovereign, can only do this by leaving the government 
outside the contract : he thus avoids the necessity of submitting 
it- to any obligation whatsoever, and leaves it absolute and 
irresponsible. He secures, in fact, not merely a Stute which has 
unbounded rights against the individual, but a determinate 
authority with the right to enforce those rights. His theory is 
not merely Statism (dtatisme) ; it i? pure despotism. 

It is clear that, if such a theory is to be upheld, it can stand 
only by the view, which Hobbes shares with Grotius, that a 
man can alienate not merely his own liberty, but also that ol 
his descendants, and that, consequently, a people as a whole 
can do the same. This is the point at which both Locke and 
Rousseau attack it. Locke, whose aim is largely to justify 
the Revolution of 1688, makes government depend, not merely 
at its institution, but always, on the consent of the governed, 
and regards all ruTeT5~~as liable to be displaced if they govern 
tyrannically. He omits, however, to provide any machinery 
short of revolution for the exrjression^pjf ^popular opinion, and, 
on the whole, seems to regard the popular consent as something 
essentially tacit and assumed. He regards the State as existing 
mainly to protect life and property, and is, in all his assertions 
of popular rights, so cautious as to reduce them almost to 
nothing. It is not till we come to Rousseau that the second 
form of the contract theory is statel in its purest and most 
logical form. 

Rousseau sees clearly the necessity, if popular consent in 
government is to be more than a name, of giving it some con 
stitutional means of exrros.sion. For Locke s theory of tacit 
consent, he substitutes an active agreement periodically re 
newed. He looks back with admiration te the city-states of 
ancient Greece and, in his o\vn day, reserves his admiration 
for the Swiss free cities, Berne and, above all, Geneva, his 
native place. Seeing in the Europe of his day no case in which 
representative government was working at all democratically, 
he was unable to conceive that means might be found of giving 
effect to thu; native agreement in a nation-state; he therefore 
held that self-government \vas impossible except for a city. 
He wished to break up the nation-states of Europe, and create 
instead federative league.; of independent city-states. 

It matters, however, comparatively little, for the appreciation 
of Rousseau s po i ioal theory in general, that he failed to 
become the theorist of the modern State. By taking ?:t? State, 

Introduction xxiii 

wnich must have, in essentials, everywhere the same basis, at 
its simplest, he was able, far better than his predecessors, to 
bring out the real nature ol the "social tie," an alternative 
name which he often uses for the Social Contract. His doctrine 
of the underlying principle of political obligation is that of all 
great modern writers, from Kant to Mr. Bosanquet. This 
fundamental unity has been obscured only because critics have 
failed to put the Social Contract theory in its proper place in 
/Rousseau s system. 

This theory was, we have seen, a commonplace. The 
amount of historical authenticity assigned to the contract almost 
universally presupposed varied enormously. Generally, the 
weaker a writer s rational basis, the more he appealed to history 
and invented it. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that 
Rousseau should cast his theory into the contractual form. 
There were, indeed, writers of his time who laughed at the 
contract, but they were not writers who constructed a general 
system of political philosophy. From Cromwell to Montesquieu 
and Bentham, it was the practically minded man, impatient 
of unactual hypotheses, who refused to accept the idea of 
contract. The theorists were as unanimous in its favour as 
the Victorians were in favour of the "organic" theory. But 
we, criticising them in the light of later events, are in a better 
position for estimating the position the Social Contract really 
took in their political system. We see that Locke s doctrine 
of tacit consent made popular control so unreal that he was 
forced, if the State was to have any hold, to make his contract 
historical and actual, binding posterity for all time, and that 
he was also led to admit a quasi-contract between people and 
government, as a second vindication of popular liberties. 
Rousseau, on the other hand, bases no vital argument on the 
historical nature of the contract, in which, indeed, he clearly 
floes not believe. "How," he asks, "did this change [from 
nature to society] come about?" And he answers that he does 
not know. Moreover, his aim is to find "a sure and legitimate 
rule of administration, taking men as they are and laws as 
they might be"; that is to say, his Social Contract is some 
thing which will be found at work in every legitimate society, 
but which will be in abeyance in all forms of despotism. He 
clearly means bv it no more: and no less than the fundamental 
principle of political association, the basis of the unity which 
enables us, in the State, to realise political liberty by giving 

xxiv Introduction 

up lawlessness and license. The presentation of this doctrine 
in the quasi-historical form of the Social Contract theory is due 
to the accident of the time and place in which Rousseau wrote. 
At the same time, the importance of the conception is best to be 
seen in the hard death it dies. Though no-one, for a hundred 
years or so, has thought of regarding it as historical, it has 
been found so hard to secure any other phrase explaining as 
well or better the basis of political union that, to this day, the 
phraseology of the contract theory largely persists. A concep 
tion so vital cannot have been barren. 

It is indeed, in Rousseau s own thought, only one of the 
three different ways in which the basis of political union is 
stated, according to the preoccupation of his mind. When he 
is thinking quasi-historically, he describes his doctrine as that 
of the Social Contract. Modern anthropology, in its attempts 
to explain the complex by means of the simple, often strays 
further from the straight paths of history and reason. In a 
semi-legal aspect, using the terminology, if not the standpoint, 
of jurisprudence, he restates the same doctrine in the form of 
popular Sovereignty. This use tends continually to pass over 
into the more philosophical form which comes third. " Sover 
eignty is the exercise of the general will." Philosophically, 
Rousseau s doctrine finds its expression in the view that the 
State is based not on any original convention, not on any 
determinate power, but on the living and sustaining rational 
will of its members. We have now to examine first Sovereignty 
and then the General Will, which is ultimately Rousseau s 
guiding conception. J 

Sovereignty is, first and foremost, a legal term, and it has 
often been held that its use in political philosophy merely leads 
to confusion. In jurisprudence, we are told, it has the perfectly 
plain meaning given to it in Austin s famous definition. The 
Sovereign is "a determinate human superior, not in a habit of 
obedience to a like superior, but receiving habitual obedience 
from the bulk of a given society." Where Sovereignty is 
placed is, on this view, a question purely of fact, and never of 
right. We have only to seek out the determinate human 
superior in a given society, and we shall have the Sovereign. 
In answer to this theory, it is not enough, though it is a valu 
able point, to show that such a determinate superior is rarely 
to be found. Where, for instance, is the Sovereign of England 
or of the British Empire? Is it the King, who is called the 

Introduction xxv 

Sovereign? Or is it the Parliament, which is the legislature 
(for Austin s Sovereign is regarded as the source of law)? Or 
is it the electorate, or the whole mass of the population, with 
or without the right of voting? Clearly all these exercise a 
certain influence in the making of laws. Or finally, is it now 
the Cabinet? For Austin, one of these bodies would be ruled 
out as indeterminate (the mass of the population) and another 
as responsible (the Cabinet). But are we to regard the House 
of Commons or, those who elect it as forming part of the 
Sovereign? The search for a determinate Sovereign may be 
a valuable legal conception ; but it has evidently nothing to do 
with political theory. 

It is, therefore, essential to distinguish between the legal 
Sovereign of jurisprudence, and the political Sovereign of 
political science and philosophy. Even so, it does not at once 
become clear what this political Sovereign may be. Is it the 
body or bodies of persons in whom political power in a State 
actually resides? Is if merely the complex of actual institu 
tions regarded as embodying the will of the society? This 
would leave us still in the realm of mere fact, outside both right 
and philosophy. The Sovereign, in the philosophical sense, is 
neither the nominal Sovereign, nor the legal Sovereign, nor 
the political Sovereign of fact and common sense : it is the 
consequence of the fundamental bond of union, the restatement 
of the doctrine of Social Contract, the foreshadowing of that 
of General Will. The Sovereign is that body in the State in 
which political power ought always to reside, and in which the 
right to such power does always reside. 

The idea at the back of the philosophical conception of 
Sovereignty is, therefore, essentially the same as that we found 
to underlie the Social Contract theory. It is the view that the 
people, whether it can alienate its right or not, is the ultimate 
director of its own destinies, the final power from which there 
is no appeal. In a sense, this is recognised even by Hobbes, 
who makes the power of his absolute Sovereign, the predecessor 
of Austin s "determinate human superior," issue first of all 
from the Social Contract, which is essentially a popular act. 
The difference between Hobbes and Rousseau on this point is 
solely that Rousseau regards as inalienable a supreme power 
which Hobbes makes the people alienate in its first corporate 
action. That is to say, Hobbes in fact accepts the theory of 
popular supremacy in name only to destroy it in fact ; Rousseau 

xxvi Introduction 

asserts the theory in its only logical form, and is under no 
temptation to evade it by means of false historical assumptions. 
In Locke, a distinction is already drawn between the legal and 
the actual Sovereign, which Locke calls "supreme power"; 
Rousseau unites the absolute Sovereignty of Hobbes and the 
"popular consent" of Locke into the philosophic doctrine of 
popular Sovereignty, which has since been the established form 
of the theory. His final view represents a return from the 
perversions of Hobbes to a doctrine already familiar to 
mediaeval and Renaissance writers; but it is not merely a return. 
In its passage the view has fallen into its place in a complete 
system of political philosophy. 

In a second important respect Rousseau differentiates him 
self from Hobbes. For Hobbes, the Sovereign is identical with 
the government. He is so hot for absolutism largely because 
he regards revolution, the overthrow of the existing govern 
ment, as at the same time the dissolution of the body politic, 
and a return to complete anarchy or to the " state of nature." 
Rousseau and, to some extent, Locke meet this view by sharp 
division between the supreme power and the government. For 
Rousseau, they are so clearly distinct that even a completely 
democratic government is not at the same time the Sovereign ; 
its members are sovereign only in a different capacity and as a 
different corporate body, just as two different societies may 
exist for different purposes with exactly the same members. 
Pure democracy, however, the government of the State by all 
the people in every detail, is not, as Rousseau says, a possible 
human institution. All governments are really mixed in 
character ; and what we call a democracy is only a more or less 
democratic government. Government, therefore, will always 
be to some extent in the hands of selected persons. Sove 
reignty, on the other hand, is in his view absolute, inalienable, 
indivisible, and indestructible. It cannot be limited, aban 
doned, shared or destroyed. It is an essential part of all social 
life that the right to control the destinies of the State belongs 
in the last resort to the whole people. There clearly must in 
ihe end be somewhere in the society an ultimate court of 
appeal, whether determinate or not; but, unless Sovereignty 
is distinguished from government, the government, passing" 
under the name of Sovereign, will inevitably be regarded as 
absolute. The only way to avoid the conclusions of Hobbes 
is, therefore, to establish a clear separation between them. 

Introduction xxvii 

Reussoau tries to do this by an adaptation of the doctrine 
of the "three powers. ? But instead^ of ihree independent 
po-> ors sharing the supreme authority, he gives only two, and 
:< one of these wholly dependent on the orhi r. i ? sub 
stitutes for the co-ordination of the legislative, the executive, 
and the judicial autnorities, a system in which the legislative 1 
power, or Sovereign, is always supreme, the executive, ci 
government, always secondary and derivative, and the judicial 
power merely a function of government. This division he 
makes, naturally, one of will and power. The government is 
merely to carry out the decrees, or acts of will, of the Sovereign 
people. Just as the human will transfers a command to its 
members for execution, so the body politic may give its deci 
sions force by setting up authority which, like the brain, may 
command its members. In delegating the power necessary for 
the execution of its will, it is abandoning none of its supreme 
authority. It remains Sovereign, and can at any moment recall 
the grants it has made. Government, therefore, exists only 
at the Sovereign s pleasure, and is always revocable by the 
sovereign will. \-6jt?* - 

py- It will be seen, when we come to discuss the nature of the / 

f * i/ 

General Will, that, this doctrine really contains the most valu 
able part of Rousseau s theory. Here, we are concerned rather 
with it - limitations The distinction between legislative and 
executive functions is in practice very hard to draw. In Rous 
seau s case, it is further complicated by the presence of a 
second distinction. The legislative power, the Sovereign, is 
concerned only with what iv genti , tSe e;iC ;he only with 
whar is particular. This r-istinciii n, ihe ;uii force of which 
can only be seen in connection with the General Will, means 
roughly that a matter is general when it concerns the whole 
community equally, and makes no mention of any particular 
class; as soon as it refers to any class or person, it becomes 
particular, and can no longer form the subject matter of an 
act! of Sovereignty. However just this distinction may seem 
in the- abstract, it is clear that its effect is to place all the 
power in the .hands of the executive : modern legislation is 
almost always concerned with particular classes and interests. 
It is not, therefore, a long step from the view of Rousseau to 
the modern theory of democratic government, in which the 
people has little power beyond that of removing its rulers if 
they displease it. As long, however, as we confine our view 

xxviii Introduction 

to the city-state of which Rousseau is thinking, his distinction 
is capable of preserving for the people a greater actual exercise 
of will. A city can often generalise where a nation must 

It is in the third book of the Social Contract, where Rous 
seau is discussing the problem of government, that it is most 
essential to remember that his discussion has in view mainly 
the city-state and not the nation. Broadly put, his principle 
of government is that democracy is possible only in small 
States, aristocracy in those of medium extent, and monarchy 
in great States (Book III, chap. iii). In considering this 
view, we have to take into account two things. First, he 
rejects representative government ; will being, in his theory, 
inalienable, representative Sovereignty is impossible. But, as 
he regards all general acts as functions of Sovereignty, this 
means that no general act can be within the competence of 
a representative assembly. In judging this theory, we must 
take into account all the circumstances of Rousseau s time. 
France, Geneva and England were the three States he took 
most into account. In France, representative government was 
practically non-existent; in Geneva, it was only partially neces 
sary ; in England, it was a mockery, used to support a corrupt 
oligarchy against a debased monarchy. Rousseau may well be 
pardoned for not taking the ordinary modern view of it. Nor 
indeed is it, even in the modern world, so satisfactory an 
instrument of the popular will that we can afford wholly to 
discard his criticism. It is one of the problems of the day to 
find some means of securing effective popular control over a 
weakened Parliament and a despotic Cabinet. 

The second factor is the immense development of local 
government. It seemed to Rousseau that, in the nation-state, 
all authority must necessarily pass, as it had in France, to 
the central power. Devolution was hardly dreamed of ; and 
Rousseau saw the only means of securing effective popular 
government in a federal system, starting from the smalf tShit 
as Sovereign. The nineteenth century has proved the false 
hood of much of his theory of government ; but there are still 
many wise comments and fruitful suggestions to be found in 
the third book of the Social Contract and in the treatise on the 
Government of Poland, as well as in his adaptation and 
criticism of the Polysynodie of the Abbe" de Saint-Pierre, a 
scheme of local government for France, born out of its due 

Introduction xxix 

The point in Rousseau s theory of Sovereignty that offers 
most difficulty is his view (Book II, chap, vii) that, for every 
State, a Legislator is necessary. We shall understand the 
section only by realising that the legislator is, in fact, in 
Rousseau s system, the spirit of institutions personified; his 
place, in a developed society, is taken by the whole complex 
of social custom, organisation and tradition that has grown up 
with the State. This is made clearer by the fact that the 
legislator is not to exercise legislative power; he is merely to 
submit his suggestions for popular approval. Thus Rousseau 
recognises that, in the case of institutions and traditions as 
elsewhere, will, and not force, is the basis of the State. 

This may be seen in his treatment of law as a whole (Book 
ll, chap, vi), which deserves very careful attention. He 
defines laws as "acts of the general will," and, agreeing with 
Montesquieu in making law the "condition of civil associa 
tion," goes beyond him only in tracing it more definitely to 
its origin in an act of will. The Social Contract renders law 
necessary, and at the same time makes it quite clear that laws 
can proceed only from the body of citizens who have constituted 
the State. "Doubtless," says Rousseau, "there is a universal 
justice emanating from reason alone ; but this justice, to be 
admitted among us, must be mutual. Humbly speaking, in 
default of natural sanctions, the laws of justice are ineffective 
among men." Of the law which set up among men this reign 
of mutual justice the General Will is the source. 
- We thus come at last to the General Will, the most disputed, 
and certainly the most fundamental, of all Rousseau s political 
concepts. No critic of the Social Contract has found it easy 
to say either what precisely its author meant by it, or what 
is its final value for political philosophy. The difficulty is 
increased because Rousseau himself sometimes halts in the 
sense which he assigns to it, and even seems to suggest by it 
two .different ideas. Of its broad meaning, however, there can 
b no doubt. The effect of the Social Contract is the creation 
of a new individual. When it has taken place, "at once, in 
place of the individual personality of each contracting party, 
the act of association creates a moral and collective body, 
composed of as many members as the assembly contains voters, 
and receiving from the act its unity, its common identity (moi 
commun), its life and its will " (Book I, chap. vi). The same 
doctrine had been stated earlier, in the Political Economy, 

xxx Introduction 

without the historical setting. "The body politic is also a 
mural being, possessed of a will, and this general will, which 
tends always to the preservation and welfare of the whole and 
of every part, and is the source of the laws, constitutes for all 
the members of the State, in their relations to one another and 
to it, the rule of what is just or unjust." It will be seen at 
once that the second statement, which could easily be fortified 
by others from the Social Contract, says more than the first. 
It is not apparent that the common will, created by the institu 
tion of society, need "tend always to the welfare of the whole." 
Is not the common will at least as fallible as the will of a 
single individual ? May it not equally be led away from its true 
interests to the pursuit of pleasure or of something which is 
really harmful to it? And, if the whole society may vote what 
conduces to the momentary pleasure of all the members and 
at the same time to the lasting damage of the State as a whole, 
is it not still more likely that some of the members will try to 
secure their private interests in opposition to those of the whole 
and of others? All these questions, and others like them, have 
been asked by critics of the conception of the General Will. 

Two main points are involved, to one of which Rousseau 
gives a clear and definite answer. "There is often," he ^ays, 
"a great deal of difference between the will of all and the 
general will; the latter takes account only of the common 
interest, while the former takes private interest into account, 
and is no more than a sum of particular wills." "The agree 
ment of all interests is formed by opposition to that of each" 
(Book II, chap. iii). It is indeed possible for a citizen, when 
an issue is presented to him, to vote not for the good of the 
State, but for his own good ; but, in such a case, his vote, 
from the point of view of the General Will, is merely negligible. 
But "does it follow that the general will is exterminated or 
corrupted? Not at all: it is always constant, unalterable, and 
pure ; but it is subordinated to other wills which encroach upon 
its sphere. . . . The fault [each man] commits [in detaching 
his interest from the common interest] is that of changing the 
state of the question, and answering something different from 
what he is asked. Instead of saying by his vote It is to the 
advantage of the State, he says, It is to the advantage of 
this or that man or party that this or that view should prevail. 
Thus the law of public order in assemblies is not so much to 
maintain in them the general will as to secure that the question 

Introduction xxxi 

be always put to it, and the answer always given by it " (Book 
IV, chap. i). These passages, with many others that may 
be found in the text, make it quite clear that by the General 
Will Rousseau means something qaite distinct from the Will 
of All, with which it should never have been confused. The 
only excuse for such confusion lies in his view that when, in a 
city-state, all particular associations are avoided, votes guided 
by individual self-interest will always cancel one another, so 
that majority voting will always result in the General Will. 
This is clearly not the case, and in this respect we may charge 
him with pushing the democratic argument too far. The point, 
however, can be better dealt with at a later stage. Rousseau 
makes no pretence that the mere voice of a majority is in 
fallible ; he only says, at the most, that, given his ideal con 
ditions, it would be so. 

The second main point raised by critics of the General Will 
is whether in defining it as a will directed solely to the common 
interest, Rousseau means to exclude acts of public immorality 
and short-sightedness. He answers the questions in different 
ways. First, an act of public immorality would be merely an 
unanimous instance of selfishness, different in no particular 
from similar acts less unanimous, and therefore forming no 
part of a General Will. Secondly, a mere ignorance of our 
own and the State s good, entirely unprompted by selfish desires, 
does not make our will anti-social or individual. "The general 
will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it 
does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always 
equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we 
do not always see what that is : the people is never corrupted, 
but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it 
seem to will what is bad" (Book II, chap. iii). It is impos 
sible to acquit Rousseau in some of the passages in which he 
treats of the General Will, of something worse than obscurity 
-positive contradiction. It is probable, indeed, that he never 
quite succeeded in getting his view clear in his own mind; 
there is nearly always, in his treatment of it, a certain amount 
of muddle and fluctuation. These difficulties the student must 
be left to worry out for himself ; it is only possible to present, 
in outline, what Rousseau meant to convey. 

The treatment of the General Will in the Political Economy 
is brief and lucid, and furnishes the best guide to his meaning. 
The definition of it in this work, which has already been quoted, 

xxxii Introduction 

is followed by a short account of the nature of general wills 
as a whole. "Every political society is composed of other 
smaller societies of various kinds, each of which has its interest 
and rules of conduct ; but those societies which everybody per 
ceives, because they have an external or authorised form, are 
not the only ones that actually exist in the State : all individuals 
who are united by a common interest compose as many others, 
either temporary or permanent, whose influence is none the 
less real because it is less apparent. . . . The influence of all 
these tacit or formal associations causes by the influence of their 
will as many modifications of the public will. The will of these 
particular societies has always two relations ; for the members 
of the association, it is a general will ; for the great society, 
it is a particular will ; and it is often right with regard to the 
first object and wrong as to the second. The most general 
will is always the most just, and the voice of the people is, in 
fact, the voice of God." 

The General Will, Rousseau continues in substance, is always 
for the common good ; but it is sometimes divided into smaller 
general wills, which are wrong in relation to it. The 
supremacy of the great General Will is " the first principle of 
public economy and the fundamental rule of government." 

In this passage, which differs only in clearness and simplicity 
from others in the Social Contract itself, it is easy to see how 
far Rousseau had in his mind a perfectly definite idea. Every 
association of several persons creates a new common will ; every 
association of a permanent character has already a "person 
ality" of its own, and in consequence a "general" will; the 
State, the highest known form of association, is a fully 
developed moral and collective being with a common will which 
is, in the highest sense yet known to us, general. All such 
wills are general only for the members of the associations 
which exercise them ; for outsiders, or rather for other associa 
tions, they are purely particular wills. This applies even to 
the State; "for, in relation to what is outside it, the State 
becomes a simple being, an individual " (Social Contract, Book 
I, chap. vii). In certain passages in the Social Contract, in 
his criticism of the Abbe de Saint-Pierre s Project of Perpetual 
Peace, and in the second chapter of the original draft of the 
Social Contract, Rousseau takes into account the possibility of 
a still higher individual, " the federation of the world." In 
the Political Economy, thinking of the nation-state, he affirms 

Introduction xxxiii 

what in the Social Contract (Book II, chap, iii) he denies of 
the city, and recognises that the life of a nation is made up 
of the whole complex of its institutions, and that the existence 
of lesser general wills is not necessarily a menace to the General 
Will of the State. In the Social Contract, he only treats of 
these lesser wills in relation to the government, which, he 
shows, has a will of its own, general for its members, but 
particular for the State as a whole (Book III, chap. ii). This 
governmental will he there prefers to call corporate will, and 
by this name it will be convenient to distinguish the lesser 
general wills from the General Will of the State that is over 
them all. 

So far, there is no great difficulty ; but in discussing the 
infallibility of the General Will we are on more dangerous 
ground. Rousseau s treatment here clearly oscillates between 
regarding it as a purely ideal conception, to which human 
institutions can only approximate, and holding it to be realised 
actually in every republican State, i. e. wherever the people 
is the Sovereign in fact as well as in right. Book IV, chap, ii 
is the most startling passage expressing the latter view. 
" When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what the 
people is asked is not exactly whether it accepts or rejects the 
proposal, but whether it is in conformity with the general will, 
which is its will. . . . When, therefore, the opinion that is 
contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less 
than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the 
general will was not so." On his own principles laid down 
elsewhere, Rousseau would have to admit that it proves nothing 
of the sort, except in so far as the other voters have been guided 
by the general interest. Though he sometimes affirms the 
opposite, there is no security on his principles that the will of 
the majority will be the General Will. At the most it can only 
be said that there is a greater chance of its being general than 
of the will of any selected class of persons not being led away 
by corporate interests. The justification of democracy is not 
that it is always right, even in intention, but that it is more 
general than any other kind of supreme power. 

Fundamentally, however, the doctrine of the General Will is 
independent of these contradictions. Apart from Kant s narrow 
and rigid logic, it is essentially one with his doctrine of the 
autonomy of the will. Kant takes Rousseau s political theory, 
and applies it to ethics as a whole. The germ of this applica- 

xxxiv Introduction 

tion is already found in Rousseau s own work; for he protests 
more than once against attempts to treat moral and political 
philosophy apart, as distinct studies, and asserts their absolute 
unity. This is brought out clearly in the Social Contract (Book 
I, chap, viii), where he is speaking of the change brought about 
by the establishment of society. "The passage from the state 
of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change 
in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and 
giving his actions the morality they had hitherto lacked. . . . 
What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and 
an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds 
in getting ; what he gains is civil liberty . . . which is limited 
by the general will. . . . We might, over and above all this, add 
to what man acquires in the civil state moral liberty, which 
alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse 
of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we pre 
scribe to ourselves is liberty." 

This one chapter contains the gist of the Kantian moral 
philosophy, and makes it quite clear that Rousseau perceived 
its application to ethics as well as to politics. The morality of 
our acts consists in their being directed in accordance with 
universal law ; acts in which we are guided merely by our 
passions are not moral. Further, man can only possess freedom 
when his whole being is unified in the pursuit of a single end ; 
and, as his whole being can be unified only in pursuit of a 
rationaJ^ud, which alone excludes contradiction, only moral 
acts, only men directing their lives by universal law, are free. 
In Kantian language, the will is autonomous (i. e. prescribes 
to itself its own law) only when it is directed to a universal 
end; when it is guided by selfish passions, or particular con 
siderations, it is heteronomous (. e. receives its law from some 
thing external to itself), and in bondage. Rousseau, as he 
iays (Book I, chap, viii), was not directly concerned with the 
ethical sense of the word "liberty," and Kant was, therefore, 
left to develop the doctrine into a system ; but the phrases of 
this chapter prove false the view that the doctrine of a Real 
Will arises first in connection with politics, and is only trans 
ferred thence to moral philosophy. Rousseau bases his political 
doctrine throughout on his view of human freedom ; it is be 
cause man is a frcta nf<nt.^cnpj3ble of being determined by 
a universal law prescribed by himself that the State is in 
fifee" mafineT~capabIe"of realising the General" WillT"that is, 

Introduction xxxv 

of jprescribing to itself and its members a similar universal 
aw! " ~ 

The General Will, then, is the application of human freedom" 
:o political institutions. Before the value of this conception can 
be determined, there is a criticism to be met The freedom 
which is realised in the General Will, we are told, is the free 
dom of the State as a whole; but the State exists to secure 
individual freedom for its members. A free State may be 
tyrannical ; a despot may allow his subjects every freedom. 
What guarantee is there that the State, in freeing itself, will 
not enslave its members? This criticism has been made with 
such regularity that it has to be answered in some detail. 

"The problem is to find a form of association which wiH 
defend and protect with the whole common force the person 
and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting 
limself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as 
free as before." "The clauses of the contract . . . are every 
where the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and recog 
nised. . . . Tfaese clauses, properly understood, may be reduced 
to one the total alienation 


wltn~liirtThrrtglit3; -to the Whole community . . . ; for, if the 
individuals~retained certain T-tgtrEs7~asTthere would be no com 
mon superior to decide between them and the public, each, 
being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all, 
and the state of nature would continue " (Book I, chap. vi). 
Rousseau sees clearly that it is impossible to place any limits 
upon the power of the State; jfr hen Jhe people combine into a 
State^Jjiey must in the end submit toJT>e__guidcd in~aTl things 
>ythewillof th^effeclTve~majorityT Limited Sovereignty is ;i 
contradiction in terms ; the Sovereign has a right to all that 
reason allows it, and as soon as reason demands that the State 
shall interfere, no appeal to individual rights can be made. 
What is best for the State must be suffered by the individualJ| 
This, however, is very far from meaning that the ruling power 
ought, or has the moral right, to interfere in every particular 
:ase. Rousseau has been subjected to much foolish criticism 
because, after upholding the State s absolute supremacy, he 
goes on (Book II, chap, iv) to speak of "the limits of the 
iovereign power." There is no contradiction whatsoever. 
Wherever State intervention is for the best, the State has a right 
to intervene ; but it has no moral right, though it must have 
a legal right, to intervene where ft is not for the best. The 

xxxvi Introduction 

General Will, beinff always in the right. will intervene only 

when intervention is proper. "The Sovereign," therefore, 
"cannot impose upon its subjects any~fetters that*are useless 
to the community, nor can it even wish to do so." As, how 
ever, the infallibility of the General Will is not enough to make 
the State infallible, there still remains an objection. Since the 
General Will cannot always be arrived at, who is to judge 
whether an act of intervention is justified? Rousseau s answer 
fails to satisfy many of his critics. "Each man alienates, I 
admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, 
goods and liberty as it is important for the community to 
control ; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole 
judge of what is important." Thjgj we are told, is mere_State 

tyranny over again. But how is it possible to avoid such a 
colicTuT5Tetr?~~~Rl>usseau has already given his reasons for object 
ing to a limited Sovereignty (Book _j_, : it follows 
absolutely that we must take the best machinery we can find 
for the execution of the State s functions. No doubt the 
machinery will be imperfect ; but we can only try to get as 
near the General Will as possible, without hoping to realise it 

The answer, therefore, to the critics who hold that, in secur 
ing civil liberty Rousseau has sacrificed the individual may be 
put after this fashion. JLiberty is not a merely negative con 
ception ; it does not consist solely in the absence of restraint. 
The purest individualist, Herbert Spencer for example, would 
grant that a certain amount of State interference is necessary 
to secure liberty ; but as soon as this idea of securing liberty is 
admitted in the smallest degree, the whole idea has undergone 
profound modification. It can no longer be claimed that every 
interference on the part of the State lessens the liberty of the 
individual; the "liberty-fund" theory is as untenable as that ol 
the "wages-fund": tj^e_membergj3f a State may_be more frw 
when all^are restrained from doing one anothgrjmiitual damage 
than~when an~v~"one is leit^ " free " Jo enslave another or be 
himseIf~TBnslaved. This principle once admitted, the precise 
amount of State interference that is necessary to secure freedorr 
will be always a matter for particular discussion ; every case 
must be decided on its own merits, and, in right, the Sovereigr 
will be omnipotent, or subject only to the law of reason. 

It has often been held that Rousseau cannot really have in 
spired the French Revolution because this view is totally in 

Introduction xxxvii 

consistent with the "rights of man," which the revolutionaries 
so fervently proclaimed. If every right is alienated in the 
Social Contract, what sense can there be in talking of "natural 
rights" afterwards? This, however, is to misrepresent Rous 
seau s position. The rights of man as they are preached by 
the modern individualist, are not the rights of which Rousseau 
and the revolutionaries were thinking. We have seen that the 
theory of the Social Contract is founded-OP bum?" frggdorn : 
this Jrgedjjrnjcgrries with Mt J Jun^ousseau_|s_jyjgw J theguarantee 
of its own permanence ; it is inalienable and indestructible. 
When, therefore, governnieim>ecomes Despotic, iFlhas ncTmore 
right over its subjects than the master has over his slave (Book 
I, chap, iv); the question is then purely one of might. In such 
cases, appeal may be made either to the terms of the Social 
Contract, or, putting the same idea another way, to the 
"natural right" of human freedom. This natural right is 
in no sense inconsistent with the complete alienation supposed 
in the Contract; for the Contract itself reposes on it and 
guarantees its maintenance. The Sovereign must, therefore, 
treat all its members alike; but, so long as it does this, it 
remains omnipotent. If it leaves the general for the particular, 
and treats one man better than another, it ceases to be 
Sovereign ; but equality is already presupposed in the terms of 
the Contract. 

It is jnore profitable to attack Rousgeaujfpr his facile identi 
fication of the interests of each of the citii 

but hereTToo, most of the critics haVe abused their opportunity. 
He does not maintain that there can be no opposition between 
a man s particular interests and the General Will as present 
in him ; on the contrary, he explicitly and consistently affirms 
the presence of such opposition (Book I, chap. v|i). What he 
asserts is, first, that the Sovereign,assucn^Tannot have any 
interest contrary to the interest of the citizens as a whole 
that is obvious; and, secondly, that it cannot have an interest 
contrary to that of any individual. The second point Rousseau, 
proves by^ showing that the omnipotence of the Sovereign is 
essentiaTto^the preservation of society, which in turn is neces- 
sary for the individual. His argument, however, really rests 
on the fundamental character of the General Will. He would 
admit that, in any actual State, the apparent interest of the 
many might often conflict with that of the few ; but he would 
contend that the real interest of State and individual alike, 

xxxviii Introduction 

being subject to universal law, could not be such as to conflict 
with any other real interest. The interest of the State, in so 
far as it is directed by the General Will, must be the interest 
of every individual, in so far as he is guided by his real will, 
that is, in so far as he is acting universally, rationally and 

Thus the justification of Rousseau s theory of liberty returns 
to the point from which it set out the omnipotence of the real 
will in State and individual. It is in this sense that he speaks 
of man in the State as " forced to be free " by the General 
Will, much as Kant might speak of a man s lower nature as 
forced to be free by the universal mandate of his higher, more 
real and more rational will. It is in this recognition of the 
State as a moral being, with powers of determination similar 
to the powers of the individual mind, that the significance of 
the General Will ultimately lies. Even, however, among those 
who have recognised its meaning, there are some who deny its 
value as a conception of political philosophy. If, they say, the 
General Will is not the Will of All, if it cannot be arrived at 
by a majority vote or by any system of voting whatsoever, then 
it is nothing; it is a mere abstraction, neither general, nor a 
will. This is, of course, precisely the criticism to which Kant s 
"real will" is often subjected. Clearly, it must be granted at 
once that the General Will does not form the whole actual 
content of the will of every citizen. Regarded as actual, it must 
always be qualified by "in so far as" or its equivalent. This, 
however, is so far from destroying the value of the conception 
that therein lies its whole value. In seeking the universal basis 
of society, we are not seeking anything that is wholly actualized 
in any State, though we must be seeking something which 
exists, more or less perfectly, in every State. 

The point of the Social Contract theory, as Rousseau states 
it, is that legitimate society exists by the consent of the people, 
and acts by popular will. Active will, and not force or even 
mere consent, is the basis of the "republican " State, which can 
only possess this character because individual wills are not 
really self-sufficient and separate, but complementary and inter 
dependent. The answer to the question " Why ought I to obey 
the General Will?" is that the General Will exists in me and 
not outside me. I am "obeying only myself," as Rousseau 
says. The State is not a mere accident of human history, a 
mere device for the protection of life and property ; it responds 

Introduction xxxix 

to a fundamental need of human nature, and is rooted in the 
character of the individuals who compose it. The whole com 
plex of human institutions is not a mere artificial structure; it 
is the expression of the mutual dependence and fellowship of 
men. If it means anything, the theory of the General Will 
means that the State is natural, and the "state of nature" an 
abstraction. Without this basis of will and natural need, no 
society could for a moment subsist; the State exists and claims 
our obedience because it is a natural extension of our 

The problem, however, still remains of making the General 
Will, in any particular State, active and conscious. It is clear 
that there are States in which visible and recognised institu 
tions hardly answer in any respect to its requirements. /Even 
in such States, however, there is a limit to tyranny; deep down, 
in immemorial customs with which the despot dare not inter- f 
fere, the General Will is still active and important. It does not-K^ 
reside merely in the outward and visible organisation of social/. 
institutions, in that complex of formal associations which we 
may call the State ; its roots go deeper and its branches spread 
further. It is realised, in greater or less degree, in the whole 
life of the community, in the entire complex of private and 
public relations which, in the widest sense, may be called 
Society. We may recognise it not only in a Parliament, a 
Church, a University or a Trade Union, but also in the most 
intimate human relationships, and the most trivial, as well as 
the most vital, social customs. 

But, if all these things go to the making of the General Will 
in every community, the General Will has, for politics, prim 
arily a narrower sense. The problem here is to secure its 
supremacy in the official institutions and public councils of the 
nation. This is the question to which Rousseau chiefly ad 
dressed himself. Here, too, we shall find the General Will the 
best possible conception for the guidance of political endeavour. 
For the General Will is realised not when that is done which 
is best for the community, but when, in addition, the com 
munity as a whole has willed the doing of it. The General 
Will demands not only good government, but also self-govern 
ment not only rational conduct, but good-will. This is what 
some of Rousseau s admirers are apt to forget when they use 
his argument, as he himself was sometimes inclined to use it, 
in support of pure aristocracy. Rousseau said that aristocracy 

xl Introduction 

was the best of all governments, but he said also that it was 
the worst of all usurpers of Sovereignty. Nor must it be 
forgotten that he expressly specified elective aristocracy. There 
is no General Will unless the people wills the good. General 
Will may be embodied in one man willing universally ; but it 
can only be embodied in the State when the mass of the citizens 
so wills. The will must be "general" in two senses: in the 
sense in which Rousseau used the word, it must be general in 
its object, i. e. universal ; but it must also be generally held, 
i. e. common to all or to the majority. 1 

The General Will is, then, above all a universal and, in the 
Kantian sense, a "rational" will. It would be possible to find 
in Rousseau many more anticipations of the views of Kant; 
but it is better here to confine comment to an important differ 
ence between them. It is surprising to find in Kant, the 
originator of modern "intellectualism," and in Rousseau, the 
great apostle of "sentiment," an essentially similar view on 
the nature and function of the will. Their views, however, 
present a difference; for, whereas the moving force of Kant s 
moral imperative is purely "rational," Rousseau finds the sanc 
tion of his General Will in human feeling itself. As we can 
see from a passage in the original draft of the Social Contract, 
the General Will remains purely rational. " No-one will dis 
pute that the General Will is in each individual a pure act of 
the understanding, which reasons while the passions are silent 
on what a man may demand of his neighbour and on what his 
neighbour has a right to demand of him." The will remains 
purely rational, but Rousseau feels that it needs an external 
motive power. "If natural law," he writes, "were written 
only on the tablets of human reason it would be incapable of 
guiding the greater part of our actions ; but it is also graven 
on the heart of man in characters that cannot be effaced, and 
it is there it speaks to him more strongly than all the precepts 
of the philosophers " (from an unfinished essay on The State 
of War). The nature of this guiding sentiment is explained 
in the Discourse on Inequality (p. 197, note 2), where egoism 
(amour-propre) is contrasted with self-respect (amour de soi). 
Naturally, Rousseau holds, man does not want everything for 

1 The term " general " will means, in Roussean, not so much " will held by 
several persons," as will having a general (universal) object. This is often 
misunderstood ; but the mistake matters the less, because the General Will 
must, in fact, be both. 

Introduction xli 

himself, and nothing for others. "Egoism" and "altruism" 
are both one-sided qualities arising out of the perversion of 
man s "natural goodness." "Man is born good," that is, 
man s nature really makes him desire only to be treated as one 
among others, to share equally. This natural love of equality 
(amour de soi) includes love of others as well as love of self, 
and egoism, loving one s self at the expense of others, is an 
unnatural and perverted condition. The " rational " precepts 
of the General Will, therefore, find an echo in the heart of the 
"natural" man, and, if we can only secure the human being 
against perversion by existing societies, the General Will can 
be made actual. 

This is the meeting-point of Rousseau s educational with his 
political theory. His view as a whole can be studied only by 
taking together the Social Contract and the Emile as explained 
by the Letters on the Mount and other works. The funda 
mental dogma of the natural goodness of man finds no place 
directly in the Social Contract; but it lurks behind the whole 
of his political theory, and is indeed, throughout, his master- 
conception. His educational, his religious, his political and his 
ethical ideas are all inspired by a single consistent attitude. 
Here we have been attending only to his political theory ; in 
the volume which is to follow, containing the Letters on the 
Mount and other works, some attempt will be made to draw 
the various threads together and estimate his work as a whole. 
The political works, however, can be read separately, and the 
Social Contract itself is still by far the best of all text-books 
of political philosophy. Rousseau s political influence, so far 
from being dead, is every day increasing; and as new genera 
tions and new classes of men come to the study of his work, 
his conceptions, often hazy and undeveloped, but nearly always 
of lasting value, will assuredly form the basis of a new political 
philosophy, in which they will be taken up and transformed. 
This new philosophy is the work of the future ; but, rooted 
upon the conception of Rousseau, it will stretch far back into 
the past. Of our time, it will be for all time; its solutions 
will be at once relatively permanent and ceaselessly progressive. 

G. D. H. COLE. 

xlii Introduction 


THERE are few good books in English on Rousseau s politics. 
By far the best treatment is to be found in Mr. Bernard Bosan- 
quet s Philosophical Theory of the State. Viscount Morley s 
Rousseau is a good life, but is not of much use as a criticism 
of views; Mr. W. Boyd s The Educational Theory of Rousseau 
contains some fairly good chapters on the political views. 
D. G. Ritchie s Darwin and Hegel includes an admirable essay 
on The Social Contract Theory and another on Sovereignty. 
The English translation of Professor Gran s Rousseau is an 
interesting biography. 

In French, there is a good cheap edition of Rousseau s com 
plete works published by Hachette in thirteen volumes. M. 
Dreyfus-Brisac s great edition of the Contrat Social is indis 
pensable, and there is a good small edition with notes by M. 
Georges Beaulavon. M. Faguet s study of Rousseau in his 
Dix-huitieme siecle Etudes litteraires and his Politique com 
pares de Montesquieu, Voltaire et Rousseau are useful, though 
I am seldom in agreement with them. M. Henri Rodet s 
Le Contrat Social et les idtes politiques de J. ]. Rousseau is 
useful, if not inspired, and there are interesting works by 
MM. Chuquet, Fabre and Lemattre. The French translation 
of Professor Hoffding s little volume on Rousseau: sa vie et sa 
philosophic is admirable. 

Miss Foxley s translation of the Emile, especially of Book V, 
should be studied in connection with the Social Contract. A 
companion volume, containing the Letters on the Mount and 
other works, will be issued shortly. 

G. D. H. C. 


PRINCIPAL WORKS : Article in the Mercure in answer to one entitled 
Si le monde que nous hahitons est une sphere ou une sphero ide, 1738 ; 
Le Verger de Mme. de Warens, 1739 ; Sur la musique moderne, 1743 ! Si 
le retablissement des Sciences et des Arts a contribue k epurer le:; Mceurs, 
prize essay, 1750, translated by R. Wynne, 1752, by anonymous author, 
1760, by H. Smithers, 1818; Devin du Village (opera), 1753, translated 
by C. Burr.ey, 1766; Narcisse, ou Amant de lui-meme, 1753; Lettre sur 
la musique Fran9aise, 1753; Sur 1 origine de 1 inegalite parmi les hommes, 
1755; Discours sur deux principes avanc6s par Rameau, 1755; Sur 

Bibliography xliii 

I economie politique, 1758; Letter to d Alembert on his article Geneve 
in the Encyclopedic, 1758, translated 1759; Lettres a Voltaire, 1759; 
Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise, first published under the title of Lettres de 
deux amants, habitants d une petite ville au pied des Alpes, etc., 1761 ; 
Contrat Social, or Principes du droit politique, 1762; Emile, ou De 1 Educa- 
tion, 1762; Lettre a Christophe de Beaumont, Archeveque de Paris, 1763; 
Alice de Silvie (poem), 1763; Lettres ecrites de la Montagne, 1764; De 
1 imitation theatrale, 1764; Dictionnaire de musique, 1767, translated 
by W. Waring, 1779; Lettres sur son exil du Canton de Berne, 1770. 

POSTHUMOUS WORKS: Emile et Sophie, 1780; Les consolations des 
miseres de ma vie, 1781 ; Considerations sur le gouvernement de Pologne, 
1782; Les Confessions, and Reveries du Promeneur Solitaire, 4 vols., 
1782-9 ; Nouveau Dedale, 1801 ; La Botanique de J. J. Rousseau, 1805; 
translated, with additional letters, by T. Martyn, 1785, 7th edition, 1807 ; 
Testament de J. J. Rousseau, 1820. 

TRANSLATIONS : Heloise (Eloisa), 1761, with a sequel found after the 
author s death, 1784, 1795, 1810 ; Emile, by Nugent, 1763; anonymous 
translator the same year; abridged and annotated by W. H. Payne, 1893 5 
Emile et Sophie, by Nugent, 1765 (?), by the translator of Eloisa, 1767 ; 
Contrat Social, 1764, 1791, in vol. iii. of Political Classics, 1795; 
1840 (?), by R. M. Harrington, with Introduction by E. L. Walter, 
1893; by H. J. Tozer 1895, 1902, 1905; Confessions, 2 vols., 1783; 
1796-90, 1861, 1891 (Masterpieces of Foreign Authors), abridged from 
1896 edition, with preface by G. J. Holyoake, 1857 ; complete translation 
(privately printed), 2 vols., 1896; with Introduction by Hesketh Milis 
(Sisley Books), 1907 ; the second part, with a new collection of letters, 
3 vols., 1791. 

WORKS : 1764 (6 vols.) ; 1769 (n vols.) ; 1774 (London, 9 yols.) ; 1782, 
etc. (17 vols.) ; 1790 (33 vols.) ; 1790 (30 vols., or 35) ; 1788-93 (39 vols.) ; 
1793-1800 (Didot, 18 vols.), and later editions from this same firm : 
Musset-Pathay, 1823-6. 

MISCELLANEOUS WORKS : 5 vols., 1767. 

POSTHUMOUS WORKS : 1762, 1783 ; CEuvres inedites (Musset-Pathay), 
1825, 1833; Fragments inedits, etc., by A. de Bougy, 1853; CEuvres et 
Correspondance inedites (Streckeisen-Moultou), 1861 ; Fragments inedits; 
Recherches biographiques et litteraires, A. Jansen, 1882. 

Works translated from the French, 10 vols., 1773-74. 

LETTERS: Sur differents Sujets, 5 vols., 1749-53; Lettres nouvelles 
sur le motif de sa retraite a la Campagne, adressees a M. de Malesherbes, 
1780 ; Nouvelles lettres, 1789 ; Lettres au citoyen Lenieps, etc., 1793 (?) ; 
Correspondance originate et inedite avec Mme. Latour de Tranqueville 
et M. du Peyrou, 2 vols., 1803 ; Lettres inedites a Mme. d Epinay (see 
Memoirs of Mme. d Epinay), 1818 ; Lettres de Voltaire et de Rousseau a 
C. J. Panckoucke, 1828 ; Lettres inedites i M. M. Rey, 1858 ; Lettres a 
Mme. Dupin (in Le Portefeuille de Mme. Dupin), 1884 ; Lettres inedites 
(correspondence with Mme. Roy de Latour), published by H. de Roth 
schild, with preface by L. Claretie, 1892 ; Lettres (between Rousseau and 
" Henriette "), published by H. Buffenoir, 1902; Correspondance avec 
Leonard Usteri, 1910. 

xliv Bibliography 

TRANSLATIONS : Original letters to M. de Malesherbes ; d Alembert, 
Mme. la M. de Luxembourg, etc., 1799, 1820; Eighteen letters to Mme. 
d Houdetot, October 1757-March 1758, 1905. 

LIFK, etc. : J. H. Fuessli, Remarks on the Writings and Conduct of Jean 
Jacques Rousseau, 1767 ; Stael-Holsteim (Baroness de Rocco), Letters on 
the Work and Character of Jean Jacques Rousseau (translation), 1789, 
1814 ; J. Morley, Rousseau, 1873, 1886 ; H. G. Graham, Rousseau (Foreign 
Classics for English Readers), 1882 ; T. Davidson, Rousseau and Education 
according to Nature (Great Educators), vol. ix., 1898; J. Texte, Jean 
Jacques Rousseau and the Cosmopolitan Spirit in Literature, etc. (transla 
tion), 1899; H. H. Hudson, Rousseau and Naturalism in Life and Thought 
(World s Epoch Makers), 1903 ; F. Macdonald, Jean Jacques Rousseau, 
a new criticism, 1906 ; J. C. Collins, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau 
in England, 1908. 







In which it is inquired why man passts from the state 
of nature to the state of society and what are the essential 
conditions of the compact. 



The Subject of the first Book 



The first Societies 



The Right of the Strongest 



Slavery ......... 



That we must always go back to a first Coavention 



The Social Compact 

. 14 


The Sovereign 

. 16 


The Civil State 

. 18 


Real Property 

. 19 


Which treats of legislation. 


That Sovereignty is inalienable 



That Sovereignty is indivisible ..... 


s III 

Whether the general Will is fallible .... 



The Limits of the Sovereign Power .... 

. 26 


The Right of Life and Death 




The Legislator 







The People 



The People {continued} ....... 



The People (continued) ....... 



The various Systems of Legislation ..... 



The Division of the Laws ....... 



Which treats of political laws, that is to say, of the form of 



Government in General ....... 



The constituent Principle in the various Forms of Govern 




The Division of Governments 



Democracy ......... 



Aristocracy ......... 



Monarchy .......... 



Mixed Governments 



That all Forms of Government do not suit all Countries 



The Marks of a good Government 



The Abuse of Government and its Tendency to Degenerate 



The Death of the Body Politic 



How the Sovereign Authority maintains itself . 



How the Sovereign Authority maintains itself (continued) 



How the Sovereign Authority maintains itself (continued) . 



Deputies or Representatives ...... 



That the Institution of Government is not a Contract 



The Institution of Government 



How to check the Usurpations of Government 



Which treats further of political laws and sets forth the 

means of strengthening thf Constitution of the State. 


That the general Will is indestructible .... 









The Roman Comitia ........ 



1 06 



Contents xlvii 


VII The Censorship in 

VIII Civil Religion 113 

IX Conclusion 123 





Foederis zquas 
Dicamus leges. (Vergil, Mneld XI.) 


THIS little treatise is part of a longer work which I 
began years ago without realising my limitations, and 
long since abandoned. Of the various fragments that 
might have been extracted from what I wrote, this is the 
most considerable, and, I think, the least unworthy of 
being offered to the public. The rest no longer exists. 



I MEAN to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be 
any sure and legitimate rule of administration, men being 
taken as they are and laws as they might be. In this 
inquiry I shall endeavour always to unite what right 
sanctions with what is prescribed by interest, in order 
that justice and utility may in no case be divided. 

I enter upon my task without proving the importance 
of the subject. I shall be asked if I am a prince or a 
legislator, to write on politics. I answer that I am 
neither, and that is why I do so. If I were a prince or a 
legislator, I should not waste time in saying what wants 
doing; I should do it, or hold my peace. 

As I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member 
of the Sovereign, I feel that, however feeble the influence 
my voice can have on public affairs, the right of voting 
on them makes it my duty to study them : and I am happy, 
when I reflect upon governments, to find my inquiries 
always furnish me with new reasons for loving that of 
my own country. 



\i MAN is born free ; and everywhere he is in chains. One 
llluisetl En~e mlrsrer^Trf~othtT r s,~ami .>ch i remains a 

greater slave than they. How did this change come about? 
I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That 
question I think I can answer. 

If I took into account only force, and the effects derived 
from it, 1 should say : " As long as a people is compelled 
to obey, and obeys, it does well ; as soon as it can shake 
off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, 


The Social Contract 

aining its liberty by the same right as took it away, 

.her it is justified in resuming it, or there was no 

^stification for those who took it away." But the social 

urder is a sacred right which is the basis of all other 

rights. Nevertheless, this right does not come from 

nature, and must therefore be founded on conventions. 

Before coming to that, I have to prove what I have just 




THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that 
is natural, is the family : and even so the children remain 
attached to the father only so long as they need him for 
their preservation. As soon as this need ceases the 
natural bond is dissolved. The children, released i-om 
the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, 
released from the care he owed his children, return 
to independence. If they remain united, they continue so 
no longer naturally, but voluntarily ; and the family itself 
is then maintained only by convention. 

This common liberty results from the nature of man. 
His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his 
first cares are those which he owes to himself; and, as 
soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole 
judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and 
consequently becomes his own master. 

The family then may be called the first model of political 

societies : the ruler corresponds to the father, and the 

people to the children ; and all, being born free and equal, 

$ alienate th" ; r liberty only for their own advantage. The 

| whole uifterence is that, in the family, the love of the 

I- father for his children repays him for the care he takes 

: of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of commanding 

{takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have 

for the peoples under him. 

Grotius denies that all human powef is established in 
favour of the governed, and quotes slavery as an example. 
His usual method of reasoning is constantly to establish 

The Social Contract 7 

right by fact. 1 It would be possible to employ a more 
logical method, but none could be more favourable to 

It is then, according to Grotius, doubtful whether the 
human race belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred 
men to the human race : and, throughout his book, he 
seems to incline to the former alternative, which is also 
the view of Hobbes. On this showing, the human species 
is divided into so many herds of cattle, each with its 
ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of 
devouring them. 

As a shepherd is of a nature superior to that of his 
flock, the shepherds of men, i. e. their rulers, are of a 
nature superior to that of the peoples under them. Thus, 
Philo tells us, the Emperor Caligula reasoned, concluding 
equally well either that kings were gods, or that men were 

The reasoning of Caligula agrees with that of Hobbes 
and Grotius. Aristotle, before any of them, had said that 
men are by no means equal naturally, but that some are 
born for slavery, and others for dominion. 

Aristotle was right ; but he took the effect for the cause. 

Nothing can be more certain than that every man born in 

slavery is born for slavery. Slaves lose everything in 

their chains, even the desire of escaping from them : they 

love their servitude, as the comrades of Ulysses loved 

.their brutish condition. 2 If then there are slaves by 

I nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature. 

I Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice per- 

I petuated the condition. 

I have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, 
father of the three great monarchs who shared out the 
universe, like the children of Saturn, whom some scholars 
have recognised in them. I trust to getting due thanks 
for my moderation ; for, being a direct descendant of one 
of these princes, perhaps of the eldest branch, how do I 
know that a verification of titles might not leave me the 

1 " Learned inquiries into public right are often only the history of past 
abuses ; and troubling to study them too deeply is a profitless infatuation " 
(Essay on the Interests of France in Relation to its Neighbours, by the 
Marquis d Argenson). This is exactly what Grotius has done. 

1 See a short treatise of Plutarch s entitled " That Animals Reason." 

8 The Social Contract 

legitimate king of the human race? In any case, there 
can be no doubt that Adam was sovereign of the world, 
as Robinson Crusoe was of his island, as long as he was 
its only inhabitant; and this empire had the advantage 
that the monarch, safe on his throne, had no rebellions, 
wars, or conspirators to fear. 



THE strongest is never strong enough to be always the 
master, unless he transforms strength into right, and 
obedience into duty. Hence the right of the strongest, 
which, though to all seeming meant ironically, is really 
laid down as a fundamental principle. But are we never 
to have an explanation of this phrase? Force is a physical 
power, and I fail to see what moral effect it can have. 
To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will at 
thLJBQsiU_a n act of prudence. In what sense can it be a 

Suppose for a moment that this so-called " right " exists. 
I maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable 
, nonsense. For, if force creates right, the effect changes 
V with the cause : every force that is greater than the first 
\ succeeds to its right. As soon as it is possible to disobey! 
/ with impunity, disobedience is legitimate; and, the strong- 
v est being always in the right, the only thing that matters 
is to act so as to become the strongest. But what kind 
of right is that which perishes when force fails? If we 
must obey perforce, there is no need to obey because we 
ought ; and if we are not forced to obey, we are under no 
obligation to do so. Clearly, the word " right " adds 
nothing to force: in this connection, it means absolutely 

Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, 
it is a good precept, but superfluous : I can answer for 
its never being violated. All power comes from God, I 
admit ; but so does all sickness : does that mean that we 
are forbidden to call in the doctor? A brigand surprises 

The Social Contract 9 

me at the edge of a wood : must I not merely surrender 
my purse on compulsion; but, even if I could withhold it, 
am I in conscience bound to give it up? For certainly the 
pistol he holds is also a power. 

Let us then admit that force does not create right. _and 
that we are _objiged to obey only legitimate powers. In 
that case, my original question recurs. 



SINCE no man has a natural authority over his fellow;*!! 
and force creates no right, we must conclude that con- ,1 
ventions form the basis of all legitimate authority amongj 
men. ** 

If an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty 
and make himself the slave of a master, why could not a 
whole people do the same and make itself subject to a 
king? There are in this passage plenty of ambiguous 
words which would need explaining ; but let us confine 
ourselves to the word alienate.^ To alienate is to give or 
to sell. Now, a man who becomes the slave of another 
does not give himself; he sells himself, at the least for 
his subsistence : but for what does a people sell itself? 
A- king is so far from furnishing his subjects with their 
subsistence that he gets his own only from them ; and, 
according to Rabelais, kings do not live on nothing. Do 
subjects then give their persons on condition that the / 
king takes their goods also? I fail to see what they have/ 
left to preserve. 

Tit will be said that the despot assures his subjects civii 
tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars 1 
his ambition brings down upon them,jhis insatiable avidity, 
and the vexatious conduct of his ministers press harder on 
them than their own dissensions would have done? What 
do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of 
their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; 
but is that enough to make them desirable places to live 
in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops 

io The Social Contract 

lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting theif 
turn to be devoured. 

To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say 

what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and 

illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is 

out of his mind. To say the same of a whole people is 

to suppose a people of madmen ; and madness creates no 

right. ~~ 

Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not 

alienate his children : | they are born men and free ; their 

liberty belongs to theTn, and no one but they has the right 

to dispose of it. Before they come to years of discretion^ 

the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for 

their preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them 

irrevocably and without conditions : such a gift is contrary 

to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of paternity. 

It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimise 

an arbitrary government, that fin every generation the 

i people should be in a position to accept or reject it ; but, 

i were this so, the government would be no longer arbitrary. 

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to 

surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For 

him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. 

Such a renunciation is incompatible with man s nature; 

to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality 

from his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory 

convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute 

authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. Is 

it not clear that we can be under no obligation to a person 

from whom we have the right to exact everything? Does 

not this condition alone, in the absence of equivalence or 

exchange, in itself involve the nullity of the act? Fcr 

what right can my slave have against me, when all that 

he has belongs to me, and, his^ right being mine, this 

right of mine against myself is a phrase devoid of 

meaning- ? 

Grotius and the rest find in war another origin for the 
so-called right of slavery. The victor having, as they 
hold, the right of killing the vanquished, the latter can 
buy back his life at the price of his liberty ;_and this 
convention is the more legitimate because it is to the 
advantage of both parties. 

The Social Contract 1 1 

But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the con 
quered is by no means deducible from the state of war. 
Men, from the mere fact that, while they are living in 
their primitive independence, they have no mutual relations 
stable enough to constitute either the state of peace or 
the state of war, cannot be naturally enemies. War is 
constituted by a relation between things, and not between 
persons ; arid, as the state of war cannot arise out of 
simple personal relations, but only out of real relations, 
private war, or war of man with man, can exist neither 
in the state of nature, where there is no constant property, 
nor in the social state, where everything is under the 
authority of the laws. 

Individual combats, duels and encounters, are acts which 
cannot constitute a state ; while the private wars, author 
ised by the Establishments of Louis IX, King of France, 
and suspended by the Peace of God, are abuses of 
feudalism, in itself an absurd system if ever there was 
one, and contrary to the principles of natural right and 
to all good polity. 

War then is a relation, not betxveen man and man, but 
between State and State, and individuals are enemies only 
accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens, 1 but as 
soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its 
defenders. Finally, each State can have for enemies only 
other States, and not men ; for between things disparate 
in nature there can be no real relation. 

Furthermore, this principle is in conformity with the 
established rules of all times and the constant practice 
of all civilised peoples. Declarations of war are intima- 

1 The Romans, who understood nnd respected the right of war more than 
any other nation on earth, carried their scruples on this head so far that a 
citizen was not allowed to serve as a volunteer without engaging himself 
expressly against the enemy, and against such and such an enemy by name. 
A legion in which the younger Cato was seeing his first service under 
Popilius having been reconstructed, the elder Cato wrote to Popilius that, 
if he wished his son to continue serving under him, he must administer to 
him a new military oath, because, the first having been annulled, he was no 
longer able to bear arms against the enemy. The same Cnto wrote to his 
son telling him to take great care not to go into battle before taking this 
new oath. I know that the siege of Clusium and other isolated events can 
be quoted against me ; but I am citing laws and customs. The Romans 
are the people that least often transgressed its laws ; and no other people 
has had such good ones. 

12 The Social Contract 

tions less to powers than to their subjects. The foreigner, 
whether king", individual, or people, who robs, kills or 
detains the subjects, without declaring war on the prince, 
is not an enemy, but a brigand. Even in real war, a just 
prince, while laying hands, in the enemy s country, on all 
that belongs to the public, respects the lives and goods of 
individuals : he respects rights on which his own are 
founded. The object of the war being the destruction of 
the hostile State, the other side has a right to kill its 
defenders, while they are bearing arms ; but as soon as 
they lay them down and surrender, they cease to be 
enemies or instruments of the enemy, and become once 
more merely men, whose life no one has any right to take. 
Sometimes it is possible to kill the State without killing 
a single one of its members ; and war gives no right which 
is not necessary to the gaining of its object. These prin 
ciples are not those of Grotius : they are not based on the 
authority of poets, but derived from the nature of reality 
and based on reason. 

The right of conquest has no foundation other than the 
right of the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror 
the right to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to 
enslave them cannot be based upon a right which does 
not exist. No one has a right to kill an enemy except 
when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to 
enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right 
to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make 
him buy at the price of his liberty his life, over which the 
victor holds no right. Is it not clear that there is a vicious 
circle in founding the right of life and death on the right 
of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life 
and death? 

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, 
I maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered 
people, is under no obligation to a master, except to 
obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking 
an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a 
favour; instead of killing him without profit, he has killed 
him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring over him 
any authority in addition to that of force, that the state 
of war continues to subsist between them : their mutual 
relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of 

The Social Contract 13 

war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has 
indeed been made; but this convention, so far from 
destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance. 

So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the 
right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegiti 
mate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The 
words slave and right contradict each other, and are 
mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for 
a man to say to a man or to a people : " I make with you 
a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my 
advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will 
keep it as long as I like." 



EVEN if I granted all that I have been refuting, the 
friends of despotism would be no better off. There will A 
always be a great difference between subduing a multitude 
and ruling- a society. / Even if scattered individuals were 
successively enslaved by one man, however numerous they 
might be, I still see no more than a master and his slaves, 
and certainly not a people and its ruler; I see what may 
be termed an aggregation, but not an association ; there 
is as yet neither public good nor body politic. The man 
in question, even if he has enslaved half the world, is 
still only an individual ; his interest, apart from that of 
others, is still a purely private interest. If this same man 
comes to die, his empire, after him, remains scattered and 
without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves into a heap 
of ashes when the fire has consumed it. 

A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then, 
according to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives 
itself. The gift is itself a civil act, and implies public 
deliberation. It would be better, before examining the 
act by which a people gives itself to a king, to examine 
that by which it has become a people; for this act, being 
necessarily prior to the other, is the true foundation of 

Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless 
the election were unanimous, would be the obligation on 

14 The Social Contract 

the minority to submit to the choice of the majority? 
How have a hundred men who wish for a master the 
right to vote on behalf of ten who do not? The law of 
majority voting is itself something established by con 
vention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at 



I SUPPOSE men to have reached the point at which the 
obstacles in the way of their preservation in the state of 
nature show their power of resistance to be greater than 
the resources at the disposal of each individual for his 
maintenance in that state. That primitive condition can 
then subsist no longer; and the human race would perish 
unless it changed its manner of existence. 

But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite 
and direct existing ones, they have no other means of 
preserving themselves than the formation, by aggregation, 
of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the resist 
ance. These they have to bring into play by means of a 
single motive power, and cause to act in concert. 

This sum of forces can arise only where several persons 
come together : but, as the force and liberty of each man 
are the chief instruments of his self-preservation, how can 
he pledge them without harming his own interests, and 
neglecting the care he owes to himself? This difficulty, 
in its bearing on my present subject, may be stated in the 
following terms 

"The problem is to find a form of association which 
will defend and protect with the whole common force the 
person and goods of each associate, and in which each, 
while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, 
and remain as free as before." This is the fundamental 
problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution. 

The clauses of this contract are so determined by the 
nature of the act that the slightest modification would 
make them vain and ineffective; so that, although thev 
have perhaps never been formally set forth, they are 
everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and 

The Social Contract 15 

ecognised, until, on the violation of the social compact, 
ach regains his original rights and resumes his natural 
i>erty, while losing the conventional liberty in favour of 
hich he renounced it. 9**tAJ^*^ 

These clauses, pjaperly understood, may be reduced t 
ne the total alienatiqnjof each associate, together witl 
I his rights, to the whole community; for, in the firs 
lace, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions an 
ic same for all ; and, this being so, no one has an; 
nterest in making them burdensome to others. 

Moreover, the alienation being without reserve, the 
nion is as perfect as it can be, and no associate 
nything more to demand : for, if the individuals 
ertain rights, as there would be no common superior to 
ecide between them and the public, each, being on one 
oint his own judge, would ask to be so on all ; the state 
F nature would thus continue, and the association would 
ecessarily become inoperative or tyrannical. 

Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives__him- 

Jf to nnhndy ; and as therp is no associate over whom he 

oes not acquire the same right as he yields others over 
imself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, j 
nd an increase of force for the preservation of what he] 

If then we discard from the social compact what is not 
f its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the 
ollowing terms 

"Each of us puts his person and all his poiver in 
ommon under the supreme direction of the general will, < 
nd, in our corporate capacity, we receisue each member 

i 4 "*t ,-7 i* c-Vk 7y> -h.n vl r\4 i ll /I ff0l Il/t7l> ** C^~l 

s an indivisible part of the whoj&. 


At once, in place Of Tfi "Individual personality of each 
ontracting party, this act of association creates a moral 
nd collective body, composed of as many members as 
he assembly contains votes, and receiving from this act 
ts unity, its common identity, its life and its will. This 
ublic person, so formed by the union of all other persons, 
ormerly took the name of city, 1 and now takes that of 

1 The real meaning of this word has been almost wholly lost in modem 
mes ; most people mistake a town for a city, and a townsman for a citizen, 
hey do not know that houses make a town, but citizens a city. The same 
listake long apo cost the Carthaginians dear. I hare never read of the 

1 6 The Social Contract 

Republic or body politic; it is called by its members State 
when passive, Sovereign when active, and Power when 
compared with others like itself. Those who are associated 
in it take collectively the name of people, and severally 
are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and 
subjects, as being under the laws of the State. But these 
terms are often confused and taken one for another : it is 
enough to know how to distinguish them when they are 
being used with precision. 




formula shows us that the act of association com 
prises a mutual undertaking between the public and the 
individuals, and that each individual, in making a con 
tract, as we may say, with himself, is bound in a double 
capacity ; as a member of the Sovereign he is bound to 
the individuals, and as a member of the State to the 
Sovereign. But the maxim of civil right, that no one is 
bound by undertakings made to himself, does not apply 
in this case ; for there is a great difference between incur 
ring an obligation to yourself and incurring one to a whole 
of which you form a part. 

Attention must further be called to the fact that public 
deliberation, while competent to bind all the subjects 
to the Sovereign, because of the two different capaci 
ties in which each of them may be regarded, cannot, 
for the opposite reason, bind the Sovereign to itself; and 

title of citizens being given to the subjects of any prince, not even the 
ancient Macedonians or the English of to-day, though they are nearer liberty 
than any one else. The French alone everywhere familiarly adopt the 
name of citizens, because, as can be seen from their dictionaries, they have no 
idea of its meaning ; otherwise they would be guilty in usurping it, of the 
crime olliu-my fStJ: among them, the name expresses a virtue, and not a 
right. When Bodin spoke of our citizens and townsmen, he fell into a bad 
blunder in taking the one class for the other. M. d Alembert has avoided 
the error, and, in his article on Geneva, has clearly distinguished the four 
orders of men (or even five, counting mere foreigners) who dwell in our 
town, of which two only compose the Republic. No other French wri r g 
to my knowledge, has understood the real meaning of the w,>rd citizen. J 

The Social Contract 17 

that it is consequently against the nature of the body 
politic for the Sovereign to impose on itself a law which 
it cannot infringe. Being able to regard itself in only 
one capacity, it is in the position of an individual who 
makes a contract with himself; and this makes it clear 
that there neither is nor can be any kind of fundamental 
law binding on the body of the people not even the 
social contract itself. This does not mean that the body 
politic cannot enter into undertakings with others, pro 
vided the contract is not infringed by them ; for in relation 
to what is external to it, it becomes a simple being, an 

But the body politic or the Sovereign, drawing its being 
wholly from the sanctity of the contract, can never bind 
itself, even to an outsider, to do anything derogatory to 
the original act, for instance, to alienate any part of itself, 
or to submit to another Sovereign. Violation of the act 
by which it exists would be self-annihilation ; and that 
which is itself nothing can create nothing. 

As soon as this multitude is so united in one body, it 
is impossible to offend against one of the members without 
attacking the body, and still more to offend against the 
body without the members resenting it. Duty and inter 
est therefore equally oblige the two contracting parties 
to give each other help ; and the same men should seek, 
to combine, in their double capacity, all the advantages 
dependent upon that capacity. 

Again, the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the x ~ 
individuals who compose it, neither._haa_nQi: can. have .any... 
interest contrary to theirs; and consequently the sovereign 
power need give no guarantee to its subjects, because it 
is impossible for the body to wish to hurt all its members. 
We shall also see later on that it cannot hurt any in par 
ticular. The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, 
is always what it should be. 

This, however, is not the case with the relation of the 
subjects to the Sovereign, which, despite the common 
interest, would have no security that they would fulfil their 
undertakings, unless it found means to assure itself of 
their fidelity. 

In fact, each individual, as a man, may have a par 
ticular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will which 

1 8 The Social Contract 

he has as a citizen. His particular interest may speak 
to him quite differently from the common interest : his 
absolute and naturally independent existence may make 
him look upon what he owes to the common cause as a 
gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will do less 
harm to others than the payment of it is burdensome to 
f himself; and, regarding- the moral person which constitutes 
the State as a persona ficta, because not a man, he may 
wish to enjoy the rights of citizenship without being ready 
to fulfil the duties of a subject. The continuance of such 
an injustice could not but prove the undoing of the body 

- In order then that the social compact may not be an 
empty formula, it tacitly includes,the undertaking, which 
i alone can give force to the rest, [ that whoever refuses to 
I pbey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the 
whole body. This means nothing less than that he will 
be forced to be free ; for this is the condition which, by 
giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all 
personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working 
of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil under 
takings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, 
and liable to the most frightful abuses. 



, THE passage from the state of nature to the civil state 
[produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting 
jjustice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions 
the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when 
the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and 
right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered 
only himself, find that he is forced to act on different 
principles, and to consult his reason before listening to 
his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives him 
self of some advantages which he got from nature, he 
gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimu 
lated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings 
so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not 


The Social Contract 19 

the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below 
that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually 
the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, 
instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him 
an intelligent being and a man. 

Let us draw up the whole account in terms easily com 
mensurable. What manjoss_b.y the social contract is his 
[natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he 
tries to get and succeeds in getting ; what he gains i 
;ivil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. I 
,ve are to avoid mistake in weighing one against the oth< 
ve must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is 
>ounded only by the strength of the individual, from 
tivil liberty, which is limited by the general will j and 
possession, which is merely the effect of force or the right 
of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded 
only on a positive title. 

We might, over and above all this, add, to what man 
acquires in the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes 
him truly master of himself ; for the mere impulse of 
appetite is slavery, wjiile obedience to a law which we 
prescribe to ourselves_js.Jibert^ | But I have already said 
too^mucTi on this head, and the philosophical meaning of 
the word liberty does not now concern us. 



(EACH member of the community gives himself to it\ at 
the moment of its foundation, just as he is, with all the 
resources at his command, including the goods he pos 
sesses. This act does not make possession, in changing 
hands, change its nature, and become property in the 
hands of the Sovereign ; but, as the forces of the city are 
incomparably greater than those of an individual, public 
possession is also, in fact, stronger and more irrevocable, 
without being any more legitimate, at any rate from the 
point of view of foreigners. , For the State, in relation to 
its members, is master of all their goods by the social 
contract, which, within the State, is the basis of all rights; 

2O The Social Contract 

but, in relation to other powers, it is so only by the right 
of the first occupier, which it holds from its members. 

The right of the first occupier, though more real than 
the right of the strongest, becomes a real right only_ when 
the right of property has already been established. ; Every 
man has naturally a right to everything he needs ; fc~ut the 
positive act which makes him proprietor of one thing 
excludes him from everything else. Having his share, he 
ought to keep to it, and can have no further right against 
the community. This is why the right of the first occupier, 
which in the state of nature is so weak, claims the respect 
of every man in civil society. In this right we are respect 
ing not so much what belongs to another as what does 
not belong to ourselves. 

In general, to establish the right of the first occupier 
over a plot of ground, the following conditions are neces 
sary : first, the land must not yet be inhabited ; secondly, 
a man must occupy only the amount he needs for his 
subsistence ; and, in the third place, possession must be 
taken, not by an empty ceremony, but by labour and 
cultivation, the only sign of proprietorship that should be 
respected by others, in default of a legal title. 

In granting the right of first occupancy to necessity and 
labour, are we not really stretching it as far as it can go? 
Is it possible to leave such a right unlimited? Is it to be 
enough to set foot on a plot of common ground, in order 
to be able to call yourself at once the master of it? Is 
it to be enough that a man has the strength to expel 
others for a moment, in order to establish his right to 
prevent them from ever returning? How can a man or a 
people seize an immense territory and keep it from the 
rest of the world except by a punishable usurpation, since 
all others are being robbed, by such an act, of the place 
of habitation and the means of subsistence which nature 
gave them in common? When Nunez Balbao, standing 
on the sea-shore, took possession of the South Seas and 
the whole of South America in the name of the crown of 
Castille, was that enough to dispossess all their actual 
inhabitants, and to shut out from them all the princes of 
the world? On such a showing, these ceremonies are 
idly multiplied, and the Catholic King need only take 
possession all at once, from his apartment, of the whole 

The Social Contract 21 

universe, merely making a subsequent reservation about 
what was already in the possession of other princes. 

We can imagine how the lands of individuals, where 
they were contiguous and came to be united, became the 
public territory, and how the right of Sovereignty, extend 
ing from the subjects over the lands they held, became at 
once real and personal. The possessors were thus made 
more dependent, and the forces at their command used to 
guarantee their fidelity. The advantage of this does not 
seem to have been felt by ancient monarchs, who called 
themselves King of the Persians, Scythians, or Mace 
donians, and seemed to regard themselves more as rulers 
of men than as masters of a country. Th ose of the 
present day more cleverly call themselves Kings of France, 
Spain, England, etc. : thus holding the land, they are 
quite confident of holding the inhabitants. 

The peculiar fact about this alienation is that, in taking 
over the goods of individuals, the community, so far from 
despoiling them, only assures them legitimate possession, 
and changes usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into 
proprietorship. Thus the possessors, being regarded as 
depositaries of the public good, and having their rights 
respected by all the members of the State and maintained 
against foreign aggression by all its forces, have, by a 
cession which benefits both the public and still more 
themselves, acquired, so to speak, all that they gave up. 
This paradox may easily be explained by the distinction 
between the rights which the Sovereign and the proprietor 
have over the same estate, as we shall see later on. 

It may also happen that men begin to unite one with 
another before they possess anything, and that, subse 
quently occupying a tract of country which is enough for 
all, they enjoy it in common, or share it out among them 
selves, either equally or according to a scale fixed by the 
Sovereign. However the acquisition be made, the right ^N 
which each individual has to his own estate is alwaysljT* 
subordinate to the_ right. .which. ..the community has over|\ 
all: without thTs, there would be neither stability in tbeljJ 
social tie, nor real force in the exercise of Sovereignty. 

I shall end this chapter and this book by remarking on* 
a fact on which the whole social system should rest : t. e. 
that, instead of destroying natural inequality, the funds- 

22 The Social Contract 

mental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality 
as nature may have set up between men, an equality that 
is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be un 
equal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal 
by convention and legal right. 1 




THE first and most important deduction from the prin 
ciples we have so far laid down is that the general will 
alone can direct the State according to the object for 
which it was instituted, i. e. the common good : for if the 
clashing of particular interests made the establishment 
of societies necessary, the agreement of these very 
interests made it possible. The common element in these 
different interests is what forms the social tie ; and, were 
there no point of agreement between them all, no society 
could exist. It is solely on the basis of this common 

terest that every society should be governed. 

I hold then that Sovereignty, being nothing less than 
the exercise of the general will, can never be alienated, 
and that the Sovereign, who is no less than a collective 
being, cannot be represented except by himself : the 
power indeed may be transmitted, but not the will. 

In reality, if it is not iimpossible for a particular will to 
agree on some point with the general will, it is at least 
impossible for the agreement to be lasting and constant ; 

1 Under bad governments, this equality is only apparent and illusory : it 
serves only to keep the pauper in his poverty and the rich man in the posi 
tion he has usurped. In fact, laws are always of use to those who possess 
and harmful to those who have nothing : from which it follows that the 
social state is advantageous to men only when ail have something and none 
too much. 

The Social Contract 23 

for the particular will tends, by its very nature, to partial 
ity, while the general will tends to equality. It is even more 
impossible to have any guarantee of this agreement; for 
even if it should always exist, it would be the effect not of 
art, but of chance. The Sovereign may indeed say : " I 
now will actually what this man wills, or at least what he 
says he wills " ; but it cannot say : " What he wills to 
morrow, I too shall will " because it is absurd for the will 
to bind itself for the future, nor is it incumbent on any 
will to consent to anything that is not for the good of the 
being who wills. If then the people promises simply to\ 
obey, by that very act it dissolves itself and loses what I 
makes it a people ; the moment a master exists, there is / 
no longer a Sovereign, and from that moment the body \ 
politic has ceased to exist. *- 

This does not mean that the commands of the rulers 
cannot pass for general wills, so long as the Sovereign, 
being free to oppose them, offers no opposition. In such 
a case, universal silence is taken to imply the consent of 
the people. This will be explained later on. 



SOVEREIGNTY, for the same reason as makes it inalien 
able, is indivisible; for will either is, or is not, general; 1 
it is the will either of the body of the people, or only of 
a part of it. In the first case, the will, when declared, 
is an act of Sovereignty and constitutes law : in the 
second, it is merely a particular will, or act of magistracy 
at the most a -decree. 

But our political theorists, unable to divide Sovereignty 
in principle, divide it according to its object : into force 
and will ; into legislative power and executive power ; into 
rights of taxation, justice and war; into internal adminis 
tration and power of foreign treaty. Sometimes they 
confuse all these sections, and sometimes they distinguish 

1 To be general, a will need not always be unanimous; but every vote 
must be counted : any exclusion is a breach of generality. 

24 The Social Contract 

them ; they turn the Sovereign into a fantastic being 
composed of several connected pieces : it is as if they 
were making man of several bodies, one with eyes, one 
with arms, another with feet, and each with nothing 
besides. We are told that the jugglers of Japan dis 
member a child before the eyes of the spectators ; then 
they throw all the members into the air one after another, 
and the child falls down alive and whole. The conjuring 
tricks of our political theorists are very like that ; they 
first dismember the body politic by an illusion worthy of 
a fair, and then join it together again we know not how. 

This error is due to a lack of exact notions concerning 
the Sovereign authority, and to taking for parts of it what 
are only emanations from it. Thus, for example, the acts 
of declaring war and making peace have been regarded 
as acts of Sovereignty ; but this is not the case, as these 
acts do not constitute law, but merely the application of 
a law, a particular act which decides how the law applies, 
as we shall see clearly when the idea attached to the word 
law has been defined. 

If we examined the other divisions in the same manner, 
we should find that, whenever Sovereignty seems to be 
divided, there is an illusion : the rights which are taken 
as being part of Sovereignty are really all subordinate, 
and always imply supreme wills of which they only 
sanction the execution. 

It would be impossible to estimate the obscurity this 
lack of exactness has thrown over the decisions of writers 
who have dealt with political right, when they have used 
the principles laid down by them to pass judgment on 
the respective rights of kings and peoples. Every one 
can see, in Chapters III and IV of the First Book of 
Grotius, how the learned man and his translator, Bar- 
beyrac, entangle and tie themselves up in their own 
sophistries, for fear of saying too little or too much of 
what they think, and so offending the interests they have 
to conciliate. Grotius, a refugee in France, ill-content 
with his own country, and desirous of paying his court 
to Louis XIII, to whom his book is dedicated, spares no 
pains to rob the peoples of all their rights and invest 
kings with them by every conceivable artifice. This 
would also have been much to the taste of Barbeyrac, who 

The Social Contract 25 

dedicated his translation to George I of England. But 
unfortunately the expulsion of James II, which he called 
his "abdication," compelled him to use all reserve, to 
shuffle and to tergiversate, in order to avoid making 
William out a usurper. If these two writers had adopted 
the true principles, all difficulties would have been re 
moved, and they would have been always consistent; but 
it would have been a sad truth for them to tell, and would 
have paid court for them to no-one save the people. 
Moreover, truth is no road to fortune, and the people 
dispenses neither ambassadorships, nor professorships, 
nor pensions. 



1 IT follows from what has gone before that the general 
Will is always right and tends to the public advantage; 
(4>ut it does not follow that the deliberations of the people 
are always equally correct. Our will is always for our 
town good, but we do not always see what that is ; the 
people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on 
isuch occasions only does it seem to will what is bad. 

There is often a great deal of difference between the 
\yill of all and the general will ; the latter considers only 
the common interest, while the former takes private 
interest into account^ and is no more than a sum of 
particular wills : but take away from these same wills 
the pluses and minuses that cancel one another, 1 and the 
general will remains as the sum of the differences. 

If, when the people, being furnished with adequate 
information, held its deliberations, the citizens had no 
communication one with another, the grand total of the 
small differences would always give the general will, and 

1 " Every interest," says the Marquis d Argenson, "has different princi 
ples. The agreement of two particular interests is formed by opposition to 
a third." He might have added that the agreement of all interests is 
formed by opposition to that of each. If there were no different interests, 
the common interest would lie barely felt, as it would encounter no 
obstacle ; all would go on of its own accord, and politics would cease to 
be an art. 

26 The Social Contract 

the decision would always be good. But when factions 
arise, and partial associations are formed at the expense 
of the great association, the will of each of these associa 
tions becomes general in relation to its members, while it 
remains particular in relation to the State : it may then 
be said that there are no longer as many votes as there 
are men, but only as many as there are associations. The 
differences become less numerous and give a less general 
result. Lastly, when one of these associations is so great 
as to prevail over all the rest, the result is no longer a 
sum of small differences, but a single difference ; in this 
case there is no longer a general will, and the opinion 
which prevails is purely particular. 

It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able 
to express itself, that there should be no partial society 
within the State, and that each citizen should think only 
his own thoughts : * which was indeed the sublime and 
unique system established by the great Lycurgus. But 
if there are partial societies, it is best to have as many as 
possible and to prevent them from being unequal, as was 
done by Solon, Numa and Servius. These precautions 
are the only ones that can guarantee that the general will 
shall be always enlightened, and that the people shall in 
no way deceive itself. 



IF the State is a moral person whose life is in the union 
of its members, and if the most important of its cares is 
the care for its own preservation, it must have a universal 
and compelling force, in order to move and dispose each_ 
part as may be most advantageous to the whole. As 
nature gives each man absolute power over all his 

1 " In fact," says Macchiavelli, " there are some divisions that are harm 
ful to a Republic and some that are advantageous. Those which stir up 
sects and parties are harmful ; those attended by neither are ndvantageous. 
Since, then, the founder of a Republic cannot help enmiues arising, he ought 
at least to prevent them from growing into sects " (History of Florence, 
Book vii). [Rousseau quotes the Italian.] 

The Social Contract 2Q 

members, the social compact gives the body politic abso 
lute power over all its members also ; and it is this power 
ivhich, under the direction of the general will, bears, as I 
have said, the name of Sovereignty. 

But, besides the public person, we have to consider the 
private persons composing it, whose life and liberty are 
naturally independent of it. We are bound then to dis 
tinguish clearly between the respective rights of the 
citizens and the Sovereign, 1 and between the duties the 
former have to fulfil as subjects, and the natural rights 
they should enjoy as men. 

Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, 
only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is 
important for the community to control; but it must also 
be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is 

Ever} 7 service a citizen can render the State he ought 
to render as soon as the Sovereign demands it; but the 
Sovereign, for its part, cannot impose upon its subjects 
any fetters that are useless to the community, nor can it 
even wish to do so ; for no more by the law of reason than 
by the law of nature can anything occur without a cause. 

The undertakings which bind us to the social body 
are obligatory only because they are mutual ; and 
their nature is such that in fulfilling them we cannot 
work for others without working for ourselves. Why 
is it that the general will is always in the right, and that 
all continually will the happiness of "each one, unless 
it is because there is not a man who does not think 
of "each " as meaning him, and consider himself in voting 
for all? This proves that equality of rights and the idea 
of justice which such equality creates originate in the 
preference each man gives to himself, and accordingly in 
the very nature of man. It proves that the general will, 
to be really such, must be general in its object as well as 
its essence ; that it must both come from all and apply 
to all ; and that it loses its natural rectitude when it 
is directed to some particular and determinate object, 
because in such a case we are judging of something 

1 Attentive readers, do not, I pray, be in a hurry to charge me with con 
tradicting myself. The terminology made it unavoidable, considering the 
poverty of the language ; but wait and see. 

2 6 The Social Contract 

foreign to us, and have no true principle of equity to 
guide us. 

Indeed, as soon as a question of particular fact or right 
arises on a point not previously regulated by a general 
convention, the matter becomes contentious. It is a cast 
in which the individuals concerned are one party, and the 
public the other, but in which I can see neither the la\\ 
that ought to be followed nor the judge who ought to givt 
the decision. In such a case, it would be absurd to pro 
pose to refer the question to an express decision of the 
general will, which can be only the conclusion reached b) 
one of the parties and in consequence will be, for the othei 
party, merely an external and particular will, inclined or 
this occasion to injustice and subject to error. Thus, jus 
as a particular will cannot stand for the general will, tht 
general will, in turn, changes its nature, when its objec 
is particular, and, as general, cannot pronounce on a mar 
or a fact. When, for instance, the people of Athenj 
nominated or displaced its rulers, decreed honours to one 
and imposed penalties on another, and, by a multitude 
of particular decrees, exercised all the functions of govern 
ment indiscriminately, it had in such cases no longer - t 
general will in the strict sense ; it was acting no longer a. 
Sovereign, but as magistrate. This will seem contran 
to current views ; but I must be given time to expoum 
my own. 

It should be seen from the foregoing that what make: 
the will general is less the number of voters than th< 
common interest uniting them; for, under this system 
each necessarily submits to the conditions he imposes 01 
others : and this admirable agreement between interes 
and justice gives to the common deliberations an equitabli 
character which at once vanishes when any partictila: 
question is discussed, in the absence of a common interes 
to unite and identify the ruling of the judge with that o 
tt}e party. 

CFrom whatever side we approach our principle, w< 
[reach the same conclusion, that the social compact set: 
I up among the citizens an equality of such a kind, tha 
Ithey all bind themselves to observe the same condition: 
land should therefore all enjoy the same rights. Thus 
from the very nature of the compact, every act of Sove 

The Social Contract 29 

-eignty, . e. every authentic act of the general will, binds 
r favours all the citizens equally ; so that the Sovereign 
ecognises only the body of the nation, and draws no 
listinctions between those of whom it is made v;p. What, 
;hen, strictly speaking, is an act of Sovereignty? It is 
lot a convention between a superior and an inferior, but 
1 convention between the body and each of its members. I 
[t is legitimate, because based on the social contract, and 
equitable, because common to all ; useful, because it can 
lave no other object than the general good, and stable, 
oecause guaranteed by the public force and the supreme 
Dower. So long as the subjects have to submit only tq 
conventions of this sort, they obey no-one but their own 
N\\\ ; and to ask how far the respective rights of the 
Sovereign and the citizens extend, is to ask up to what 
Doint the latter can enter into undertakings with them 
selves, each with all, and all with each 

We can see from this that the sovereign power, abso- 
ute, sacred and inviolable as it is, does not and cannot 
;xceed the limits of general conventions, and that every 
nan may dispose at will of such goods and liberty as 
:hese conventions leave him ; so that the Sovereign never 
las a right to lay more charges on one subject than on 
another, because, in that case, the question becomes 
>articular, and ceases to be within its competency. 

When these distinctions have once been admitted, it is 
seen to be so untrue that there is, in the social contract, 
real renunciation on the part of the individuals, that 
the position in which they find themselves as a result of 
:he contract is really preferable to that in which they were 
oefore. Instead of a renunciation, they have made an 
idvantageous exchange : instead of an uncertain and pre- 
:arious way of living they have got one that is better and 
nore secure; instead of natural independence they have 
t liberty, instead of the power to harm others security 
: or themselves, and instead of their strength, which others 
might overcome, a right which social union makes in- 
incible. Their very life, which they have devoted to the 
State, is by it constantly protected; and when they risk it 
n the State s defence, what more are they doing than 
jiving back what they have receivjed._from it? What are 
:hey doing that they would not do more often and with 

30 The Social Contract 

greater danger in the state of nature, in which they would 
inevitably have to fight battles at the peril of their lives in 
defence of that which is the means of their preservation? 
All have indeed to fight when their country needs them ; 
but then no one has ever to fight for himself. * Do we not 
gain something by running, on behalf of what gives us 
our security, only some of the risks we should have to run 
for ourselves, as soon as we lost it?" 



THE question is often asked how individuals, having 
no right to dispose of their own lives, can transfer to th< 
Sovereign a right which they do not possess. The diffi 
culty of answering this question seems to me to lie in its 
j being wrongly stated, i Every man has a right to risk his 
\ own life in order to preserve it.j Has it ever been sale 
that a man who throws himself out of the window tc 
escape from a fire is guilty of suicide? Has such a crime 
ever been laid to the charge of him who perishes in i 
storm because, when he went on board, he knew of the 

The social treaty has for its end the preservation of the 

contracting parties. He_who wills the end wills the means 

also, and the means must involve some risks, and ever 

a some losses. | He who wishes to preserve his life at others 

\ expense should also, when it is necessary, be ready to give 

\ it up for their sake.v Furthermore, the citizen is no longei 

the judge of the dangers to which the law desires hirr 

to expose himself; and when the prince says to him: " II 

is expedient for the State that you should die," he oughi 

to die, because it is only on that condition that he has beer 

living in security up to the present, and because his life is 

no longer a mere bounty of nature, but a gift madf 

conditionally by the State. 

The death-penalty inflicted upon criminals may be lookec 
on in much the same light : it is in order that we may nol 
fall victims to an assassin that we consent to die if ut 
ourselves turn assassins. In this treaty, so far from dis- 

The Social Contract 31 

posing of our own lives, we think only of securing them, 
and it is not to be assumed that any of the parties then 
expects to get hanged. 

Again, every malefactor, by attacking social rights, 
becomes on forfeit a rebel and a traitor to his country ; 
by violating its laws he ceases to be a member of it ; he 
even makes war upon it. In such a case the preservation 
of the State is inconsistent with his own, and one or the 
other must perish ; in putting the guilty to death, we slay 
not so much the citizen as an enemy. The trial and the 
judgment are the proofs that he has broken the social 
:reaty, and is in consequence no longer a member of the 
State. Since, then, he has recognised himself to be such 
living there, he must be removed by exile as a violator 
of the compact, or by death as a public enemy ; for such 
an enemy is not a moral person, but merely a man ; and in 
such a case the right of war is to kill the vanquished. 

But, it will be said, the condemnation of a criminal isl 
a particular act. I admit it : but such condemnation is] 
not a function of the Sovereign ; it is a right the Sovereign;] 
can confer without being able itself to exert it. All my/ 
deas are consistent, but I cannot expound them all at 

We may add that frequent punishments are always a 
_ign of weakness or remissness on the part of__tlie govern 
ment. I There ~te~flot a singTe~~lTr-doer who could not Bei 
:urnecF to some good. /The State has no right to put to 
death, even for the sake of making an example, any onej 
whom it can leave alive without danger. ; 

The right of pardoning or exempting the guilty from 
a penalty imposed by the law and pronounced by the 
udge belongs only to the authority whirh jfi superior. a 
joth judge and law, i. e. the^SfivpreiyrH even its right in 
this matter is far from clearTand the cases for exercising 
t are extremely rare. | In a well-governed State, there are 
r ew punishments, not because there are many pardons, 
but because criminals are rare ) it is when, a jtate is_jn 
decay that the multitude of crimes is a guarantee of irh- 
junity,. Under the Roman Republic, neither the Senate 
nor the Consuls ever attempted to pardon ; even the people 
never did so, though it sometimes revoked its own 
decision. Frequent pardons mean that crime will soon 

2 The Social Contract 

need them no longer, and no-one can help seeing whither 
that leads. But I feel my heart protesting and restraining 
my pen ; let us leave these questions to the just man who 
has never offended, and would himself stand in no need of 



BY the social compact we have given the body politic 
existence and life ; we have now by legislation to give it 
movement and will. For the original act by which the 
body is formed and united still in no respect determines 
what it ought to do for its preservation. 

What is well and in conformity with order is so by the 
nature of things and independently of human conventions. 
All justice comes from God, who is its sole source ; but 
if we knew how_J^x_receiye so high^an inspiration, we 
should need neither government nor laws. Doubtless, 
there js a universal jus^irp grpaiiatiD^J^ reason alone; 
but this justice, to be admitted among us, must be mutual. 
Humanly speaking, in default of natural sanctions, the 
laws of justice are ineffective among men : they merely 
make for the good of the wicked and the undoing of the 
just, when the just man observes them towards everybody 
and nobody observes them towards him. Conventions and 
laws are therefore needed to join rights-iaudiilie.s and refer 
justice to Jts object. In the state of nature, where every 
thing is common, I owe nothing- to him whom I have 
promised nothing; I recognise as belonging to others cnly 
-what ic nf qp.imp fn me. fin the-SLta.te_of_soiety all rights 
arejyted_]2y_lajiv, and the case becomes different. 

^"t wt lM*-Mter_aU^is. a lawj* As long as we remain 
satisfied with attaching purely metaphysical ideas to the 
word, we shall go on arguing without arriving at an 
understanding; and when we have defined a law of nature, 
we shall be no nearer the definitiQn of, a law of the State. 

I have already said that there can be no general will 
directed to a particular object. Such an object must be 
either within or outside the State. If outside, a will 
which is alien to it cannot be, in relation to it, general ; 

The Social Contract 33 

if within, it is part of the State, and in that case there 
arises a relation between whole and part which makes 
them two separate beings, of which the part is one, and 
the whole minus the part the other. But the whole minus 
a part cannot be the whole ; and while this relation 
persists, there can be no whole, but only two unequal 
Darts ; and it follows that the will of one is no longer in 
any respect general in relation to the other. 

But when the whole people decrees for the whole people,"?; 
t is considering only itself ; and if a relation is then I 
Tormed, it is between two aspects of the entire object,! 
without there being any division of the whole. In that \ 
case the matter about which the decree is made is, like \ 
the decreeing will, general. This_.act^s_3yliat-L-ciill_aJaw^ 

When I say that the object of laws is always general, 
[ mean that law considers subjects en masse and actions 
n the abstract, and never a particular person or action. 
Thus the law may indeed decree that there shall be privi- 
eges, but cannot confer them on anybody by name. It 
may set up several classes of citizens, and even lay down 
the qualifications for membership of these classes, but it 
cannot nominate such and such persons as belonging to 
Jiem ; it may establish a monarchical government and 
lereditary succession, but it cannot choose a king, ofX 
nominate a royal.. family. In a word, no function which I 
ias a particular object-belongs to the legislative power. / 

On this view, we at once/ see that it can no longer be 
asked whose business it isf to make laws, since they are 
acts of the general will ;J nor whether the prince is above 
the law, since he is a member of the State ; nor whether 
the law can be unjust, since no one is unjust to himself ; 
nor how we can be both free and subject to the laws, since 
they are but Registers of our wills. 

We see further that, as the law unites universality of 
will with universality of object, what a man, whoever he 
be, commands of his own motion cannot be a law ; and , 
even what the Sovereign commands with regard to a 
particular matter is no nearer being a law, but is a decree, 
an act, not of sovereignty, but of magistracy. 

I therefore give the name Republic to every State 
that is governed by laws, no matter what the form of its 
administration may be : for only in such a case does the 

34 The Social Contract 

public interest govern, and the res publica rank as a 
reality. Every legitimate government is republican; 1 
what government is I will explain later on. 

Laws are, prowerly speaking, only the conditions of 
civil association. fThe people, being subject to the law 
ought to Jie_ heir___ajLrthor|: the conditions of the socie 
ought to be regulated sojlly by those who come together 
to form it. But how are they to regulate jthem? Is it to 
be by common agreement, by a sudden inspiration ? Has 
the body politic an organ to declare its will? Who can 
give it the foresight to formulate and announce its acts 
in advance? Or how is it to announce them in the hour 
of need? How can a blind multitude, which often does 
not know what it wills, because it rarely knows what is 
good for it, carry out for itself so great and, difficult an 
enterprise as a system of legislation? Of itself the people 
\ wills always the good, but of itself it by no means always 
sees it. The general will is always in the right, but the 
judgment which guides it is not always enlightened. It 
must be got to see objects as, they are, and sometimes as 
jhey ought to appear to itpit must be shown the good 
froad~rf is in- search ^>F, ^secured from the seductive in 
fluences of individual wills, taught to see times and spaces 
as a series, and made to weigh the attractions of present 
and sensible advantages against the danger of distant and 
hidden evils. The individuals see the good they reject ; 
the public wills the good it does not see. All stand equally 
in need of guidance. The former must be compelled to 
bring their wills into conformity with their reason ; the 
latter must be taught to know what it wills. If that is 
done, public enlightenment leads to the union of under 
standing and will in the social body : the parts are made 
to work exactly together, and the whole is raised to its 
highest powerC^Yrhis makes a legislator necessary. 

1 I understand by this word, not merely an aristocracy or a democracy, 
but generally any government directed by the general will, which is the 
law. To be legitimate, the government must be, not one with the 
Sovereign, but its minister. In such a case even a monarchy is a Republic. 
This will be made clearer in the following book. 

The Social Contract 35 



IN order/ to discover the rules of society best suited 
to nations,! a superior intelligence beholding all the pas 
sions of men without experiencing any of them would be 
needed. This intelligence would have to be wholly un 
related to our nature, while knowing it through and 
through ; its happiness would have to be independent of 
us, and yet ready to occupy itself with ours; and lastly, 
it would have, in the march of time, to look forward to a 
distant glory, and, working in one century, to be able 
to enjoy in the next. 1 It would take gods to give men 

What Caligula argued from the facts, Plato, in the 
dialogue called the Politictts, argued in defining the civil 
or kingly man, on the basis of right. But if great princes 
are rare, how much more so are great legislators? The 
former have only to follow the pattern which the latter 
have to lay down. The legislator is the engineer who 
invents the machine, the prince merely the mechanic who 
sets it up and makes it go. "At the birth of societies," 
says Montesquieu, "the rulers of Republics establish 
institutions, and afterwards the institutions mould the 
rulers." 2 

He who dares to undertake the making of a people s 
institutions ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of 
changing human nature, of transforming each individual, 
who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part 
of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives 
his life and being; of altering man s constitution for the 
purpose of strengthening it ; and of substituting a partial 
ind moral existence for the physical and independent 
existence nature has conferred on us all. He must, in a 
ivord, take away from man his own resources and give him 
instead new ones alien to him, and incapable of being 
mndc use of without the help of other men. The more 

1 A people becomes famous only when its legislation b gins to decline. 
e do not know for how many centuries the system of Lycurgus made the 

spartans happy before the rest of Greece took any noiice of it. 

2 Montesquieu. The Grtaintss and Decadence of the Romans^ ch. i. 

36 The Social Contract 

completely these natural resources are annihilated, the 
greater and the more lasting are those which he acquires, 
and the more stable and perfect the new institutions ; so 
that if each citizen is nothing and can do nothing without 
the rest, and the resources acquired by the whole are 
equal or superior to the aggregate of the resources of 
all the individuals, it may be said that legislation is at the 
highest possible point of perfection. 

The legislator occupies in every respect an extraordinary 
position in the State. If he should do so by reason of his 
genius, he does so no less by reason o his office, which 
is neither magistracy, nor Sovereignty. (This office, which 
sets up the Republic, nowhej^enters intp ijs constitution; 
it is an individual and superior function, which h.a"s nothing 
in common with human empire; for if he who holds 
command over men ought not to have command over 
the laws, he who has command over the laws ought not 
any more to have it over men ; or else his laws would be 
the ministers of his passions and would often merely serve 
to perpetuate his injustices : his private aims would 
inevitably mar the sanctity of his worla 

When Lycurgus gave laws to his country, he began 
by resigning the throne. It was the custom of most 
Greek towns to entrust the establishment of their laws to 
foreigners. The Republics of modern Italy in many cases 
followed this example; Geneva did the same and profited 
by it. 1 Rome, when it was most prosperous, suffered a 
revival of all the crimes of tyranny, and was brought to 
the verge of destruction, because it put the legislative 
authority and the sovereign power into the same hands. 

Nevertheless, the decemvirs themselves never claimed 
the right to pass any law merely on their own authority. 
"Nothing we propose to you," they said to the people, 
"can pass into law without your consent. Romans, be 
yourselves the authors of the laws which are to make you 

1 Those who know Calvin only as a theologian much tinder-estimate the 
extent of his genius. The codification of our wise edicts, in which he 
played a large part, does him no less honour than his Institute. What 
ever revolution time may bring in our religion, so long as the spirit of 
patriotism and liberty still lives among us, the memory of this great man 
will be for ever blessed. 

The Social Contract 37 

He, therefore, who draws up the laws has, or should 
have, mj right of legislation, and the people cannot, even 
if it wishes, deprive itsell of this incommunicable right, 
because, according to the fundamental compact, only the 
general will can bind the individuals, and there can be no 
assurance that a particular will is in conformity with the 
general will, until it has been put to the free vote of the 
\people. This I have said already ; but it is worth while 
/to repeat it. 

Thus in the task of legislation we find together two 
things which appear to be incompatible : an enterprise 
too difficult for human powers, and, for its execution, an 
authority that is no authority. 

There is a further difficulty that deserves attention. 
Wise men, if they try to speak their language to the 
common herd instead of its own, cannot possibly make 
themselves understood. There are a thousand kinds of 
ideas which it is impossible to translate into popular 
language. Conceptions that are too general and objects 
that are too remote are equally out of its range : each 
individual, having no taste for any other plan of govern 
ment than that which suits his particular interest, finds 
it difficult to realise the advantages he might hope to draw 
from the continual privations good laws impose. For a 
young people to be able to relish sound principles of 
political theory and follow the fundamental rules of state 
craft, the effect would have to become the cause ; the social 
spirit, which should be created by these institutions, would 
have to preside over their very foundation ; and men would 
have to b before law what they should become by means 
of law. [The legislator therefore, being unable to appeal 
to either force or reason, must have recourse to an 
authority of a different order, capable of constraining 
without violence and persuading without convincing^ 

This is what has, in all ages, compelled the fathers of 
nations to have recourse to divine intervention and credit 
the gods with their own wisdom, in order that the peoples, 
submitting to the laws of the State as to those of nature, 
and recognising the same power in the formation of the 
city as in that of man, might obey freely, and bear with 
docility the yoke of the public happiness. 

This sublime reason, far above the range of the common 

38 The Social Contract 

herd, is that whose decisions the legislator puts into the 
rriouth of the immortals, in order to constrain by divine 
authority those whom human prudence could not move. 1 
But it is not anybody who can make the gods speak, or 
get himself believed when he proclaims himself their 
interpreter. The great soul of the legislator is the only 
miracle that can prove his mission. Any man may grave 
tablets of stone, or buy an oracle, or feign secret inter 
course with some divinity, or train a bird to whisper in his 
ear, or find other vulgar ways of imposing on the people. 
He whose knowledge goes no further may perhaps gather 
round him a band of fools ; but he will never found an 
empire, and his extravagances will quickly perish with 
him. Idle tricks form a passing tie ; only wisdom can 
make it lasting. The Judaic law, which still subsists, and 
that of the child of Ishmael, which, for ten centuries, has 
ruled half the world, still proclaim the great men who laid 
them down ; and, while the pride of philosophy or the blind 
spirit of faction sees in them no more than lucky impos 
tures, the true political theorist admires, in the institutions 
they set up, the great and powerful genius which presides 
over things made to endure. 

We should not, with Warburton, conclude from this 
that politics and religion have among us a common object, 
but that, in the first periods of nations, the one is used as 
an instrument for the other. 



As, before putting up a large building, the architect 
surveys and sounds the site to see if it will bear the weight, 
the wise legislator does not begin by laying down laws 
good in themselves, but by investigating the fitness of 

1 "In truth," says Macchiavelli, " there has never been, in any country, 
an extraordinary legislator who has not had recourse to God ; for otherwise 
his laws would not have been accepted : there are, in fact, many useful 
truths of which a wise man may have knowledge without their having in 
themselves such clear reasons for their being so as to be able to convince 
others " (Discourses on Livy, Bk. v, ch. xi). [Rousseau quotes the 

The Social Contract 39 

the people, for which they are destined, to receive them. 
Plato refused to legislate for the Arcadians and the 
Cyrenaeans, because he knew that both peoples were rich 
and could not put up with equality ; and good laws and 
bad men were found together in Crete, because Minos had 
inflicted discipline on a people already burdened with vice. 

A thousand nations have achieved earthly greatness, 
that could never have endured good laws ; even such as 
could have endured them could have done so only for a 
very brief period of their long history. Most peoples, 
like most men, are docile only in youth ; as they grow old 
they become incorrigible. When once customs have 
become established and prejudices inveterate, it is dan 
gerous and useless to attempt their reformation; the 
people, like the foolish and cowardly patients who rave 
at sight of the doctor, can no longer bear that any one 
should lay hands on its faults to remedy them. 

There are indeed times in the history of States when, 
just as some kinds of illness turn men s heads and make 
them forget the past, periods of violence and revolutions 
do to peoples what these crises do to individuals : horror 
of the past takes the place of forgetfulness, and the State, 
set on fire by civil wars, is born again, so to speak, from 
its ashes, and takes on anew, fresh from the jaws of death, 
the vigour of youth. Such were Sparta at the time of 
Lycurgus, Rome after the Tarquins, and, in modern times, 
Holland and Switzerland after the expulsion of the tyrants. 

But such events are rare ; they are exceptions, the cause 
of which is always to be found in the particular constitu 
tion of the State concerned. They cannot even happen 
twice to the same people, for it can make itself free as 
long as it remains barbarous, but not when the civic 
impulse has lost its vigour. Then disturbances may 
destroy it, but revolutions cannot mend it : it needs a 
master, and not a liberator. Free peoples, be mindful 
of this maxim : " Liberty may be gained, but can never 
be recovered." 

Youth is not infancy. There is for nations, as for men, 
a period of youth, or, shall we say, maturity, before 
which they should not be made subject to laws; but the 
maturity of a people is not always easily recognisable, 
and, if it is anticipated, the work is spoilt. One people 

40 The Social Contract 

is amenable to discipline from the beginning ; another, 
not after ten centuries. Russia will never be really 
civilised, because it was civilised too soon. Peter had 
a genius for imitation ; but he lacked true genius, which 
is creative and makes all from nothing. He did some 
good things, but most of what he did was out of place. 
He saw that his people was barbarous, but did not see 
that it was not ripe for civilisation : he wanted to civilise 
it when it needed only hardening. His first wish was to 
make Germans or Englishmen, when he ought to have 
been making Russians ; and he prevented his subjects 
from ever becoming what they might have been by per 
suading them that they were what they are not. In this 
fashion too a French teacher turns out his pupil to be 
an infant prodigy, and for the rest of his life to be nothing 
whatsoever. The empire of Russia will aspire to conquer 
Europe, nnd will itself be conquered. The Tartars, its 
subjects or neighbours, will become its masters and ours, 
by a revolution which I regard as inevitable. Indeed, all 
the kings of Europe are working in concert to hasten its 

THE PEOPLE (continued) 

As nature has set bounds to the stature of a well-made 
man, and, outside those limits, makes nothing but giants 
or dwarfs, similarly, for the constitution of a State to be 
at its best, it is possible to fix limits that will make it 
neither too large for good government, nor too small for 
self-maintenance. In every body politic there is a 
maximum strength which it cannot exceed and which it 
only loses by increasing in size. Every extension of the 
social tie means its relaxation ; and, generally speaking, 
a small State is stronger in proportion than a great one. 

A thousand arguments could be advanced in favour of 
this principle. First, long distances make administration 
more difficult, just as a weight becomes heavier at the end 
of a longer lever. Administration therefore becomes more 
and more burdensome as the distance grows greater ; for, 
in the first place, each city has its own, which is paid for 

The Social Contract 41 

by the people : each district its own, still paid for by the 
people : then comes each province, and then the great 
governments, satrapies, and vice-royalties, always costing- 
more the higher you go, and always at the expense of the 
unfortunate people. Last of all comes the supreme 
administration, which eclipses all the rest. All these over 
charges are a continual drain upon the subjects ; so far 
rom being better governed by all these different orders, 
hey are worse governed than if there were only a single 
re authority over them. In the meantime, there scarce 
emain resources enough to meet emergencies ; and, when 
ecourse must be had to these, the State is always on the 
eve of destruction. 

be This is not all ; not only has the government less vigour 
nd promptitude for securing the observance of the laws, 
preventing nuisances, correcting abuses, and guarding 
against seditious undertakings begun in distant places ; the 
people has less affection for its rulers, whom it never sees, 

42 The Social Contract 

if it is to have stability, and to be able to resist the shocks 
it cannot help experiencing, as well as the efforts it will be 
forced to make for its maintenance ; for all peoples have a 
kind of centrifugal force that makes them continually act 
one against another, and tend to aggrandise themselves 

their neighbours expense, like the vortices of Descartes.. 
Thus the weak run the risk of being soon swallowed up; 
and it is almost impossible for any one to preserve itsell 
except by putting itself in a state of equilibrium with all, 
so that the pressure is on all sides practically equal. 

It may therefore be seen that there are reasons for 
expansion and reasons for contraction ; and it is no smal 
part of the statesman s skill to hit between them the 
mean that is most favourable to the preservation of the 
State. It may be said that the reason for expansion, being 
merely external and relative, ought to be subordinate to th< 
reasons for contraction, which are internal and absolute. 
A strong and healthy constitution is the first thing to loot 
for ; and it is better to count on the vigour which corner 
of good government than on the resources a great territory 

It may be added that there have been known States sc 
constituted that the necessity of making conquests entere< 
into their very constitution, and that, in order to maintair 
themselves, they were forced to expand ceaselessly. I 
may be that they congratulated themselves greatly on thi: 
fortunate necessity, which none the less indicated to them 
along with the limits of their greatness, the inevitabl 
moment of their fall. 

THE PEOPLE (continued) 

A BODY politic may be measured in two ways eithe 
by the extent of its /territory} or by the number of it 
/people \ and there is, Between these two measurements, 
right relation whichrnakes^thig^State really grea Th 
men^make the~Btafepand~ theterntory sustains tfie men 
the right relation therefore is that the land should suffic 
for the maintenance of the inhabitants, and that thet 

The Social Contract 43 


44 The Social Contract 

congregate together more in order to repel pirates, ant 
further because it is easier to unburden the country of it: 
superfluous inhabitants by means of colonies. 

To these conditions of law-giving must be added oni 
other which, though it cannot take the place of the rest 
renders them all useless when it is absent. This is th* 
enjoyment of peace and plenty ; for the moment at whicl 
a State sets its house in order is, like the moment when ; 
battalion is forming up, that when its body is least capablt 
of offering resistance and easiest to destroy. A bette 
resistance could be made at a time of absolute disorganisa 
tion than at a moment of fermentation, when each i; 
occupied with his own position and not with the danger 
If war, famine, or sedition arises at this time of crisis, thi 
State will inevitably be overthrown. 

Not that many governments have not been set uj 

during such storms ; but in such cases these government; 

/ure themselves the State s destroyers. Usurpers alway. 

Vbring about or select troublous times to get passed, unde 

/cover of the public terror, destructive laws, which th 

/peopje^ would never adopt in cold Jjlood. The momen 

chosen is one of the surest means of distinguishing th< 

work of the legislator from that of the tyrant. 

What people, then, is a fit subject for legislation? One 
which, already bound by some unity of origin, interest 
or convention, has never yet felt the real yoke of law ; on< 
that has neither customs nor superstitions deeply ingrained 
one which stands in no fear of being overwhelmed 
sudden invasion; one which, without entering into it: 
neighbours quarrels, can resist each of them single 
handed, or get the help of one to repel another ; one ii 
which every member may be known by every other, an< 
there is no need to lay on any man burdens too heavy fo 
a man to bear ; one which can do without other peoples 
and without which all others can do ; 1 one which i: 

1 If there were two neighbouring peoples, one of which could not d< 
without the other, it would be very hard on the former, and very dangerou 
for the latter. Every wise nation, in such a case, would make haste to fret 
the other from dependence. The Republic of Thlascala, enclosed by th< 
Mexican Empire, preferred doing without salt to buying from the Mexicans 
or even getting it from them as a gift. The Thlascalans were wise enougl 
to see the snare hidden under such liberality. They kept their freedom 
and that little State, shut up in that great Empire, was finally the instrumen 
of its ruin. 

The Social Contract 45 

neither rich nor poor, but self-sufficient; and, lastly, one 

hich unites the consistency of an ancient people with the 

idocility of a new one. Legislation is made difficult less 

>y what it is necessary to build up than by what has to be 

lestroyed ; and what makes success so rare is the 

mpossibility of finding natural simplicity together with 

ocial requirements. All these conditions are indeed 

arely found united, and therefore few States have good 


There is still in Europe one country capable of being 
pven laws Corsica. The valour and persistency with 
vhich that brave people has regained and defended its 
iberty well deserves that some wise man should teach 
t how to preserve what it has won. I have a feeling that 
>ome day that little island will astonish Europe. 



IF we ask in what precisely consists the greatest good 
f all, which should be the end of every system of legisla- 
on, we shall find it reduce itself to two main objects, 
berty and equality liberty, because all particular de- 
ondence means so much force taken from the body of 

e State, and equality, because liberty cannot exist 
ithout it. 

I have already defined civil liberty ; by equality, we 

ould understand, not that the degrees of power and 
ches are to be absolutely identical for everybody ; but 

at power shall never be great enough for violence, and 
always be exercised by virtue of rank and law ; and 
lat, in respect of riches, no citizen shall ever be wealthy 
lough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced 
> sell himself : * which implies, on the part of the great, 

1 If the object is to give the State consistency, bring the two extremes as 
i to each other as possible ; allow neither rich men nor beggars. These 
o estates, which are naturally inseparable, are equally fatal to the com- 
in good ; from the one come the friends of tyranny, and from the other 
.nts. It is always between -them that public liberty is put up to 
on ; the one buys, and the other sells. 

4 6 

The Social Contract 

moderation m goods and position, and, on the side of the 
common sort, moderation in avarice and covetousness. 

Such equality, we are told, is an unpractical ideal that 
cannot actually exist. But if its abuse is inevitable, does 
it follow that we should not at least make regulations 
concerning it? It is precisely because the force of cir 
cumstances tends continually to destroy equality that the 
force of legislation should always tend to its maintenance. 

But these general objects of every good legislative 
system need modifying in every country in accordance 
with the local situation and the temper of the inhabitants : 
and these circumstances should determine, in each case 
the particular system of institutions which is best, no 
perhaps in itself, but for the State for which it is destinec 
If, for instance, the soil is barren and unproductive, or th 
land too crowded for its inhabitants, the people shoul 
turn to industry and the crafts, and exchange what the 
produce for the commodities they lack. If, on the othe 
hand, a people dwells in rich plains and fertile slopes, or 
in a good land, lacks inhabitants, it should give all it 
attention to agriculture, which causes men to multiply 
and should drive out the crafts, which would only resu 
in depopulation, by grouping in a few localities the fev 
inhabitants there are. 1 If a nation dwells on an extensiv 
and convenient coast-line, let it cover the sea with ship 
and foster commerce and navigation. It will have a lif 
that will be short and glorious. If, on its coasts, the se 
washes nothing but almost inaccessible rocks, let it remai 
barbarous and ichthyophagouj*: it will have a quietei 
perhaps a better, and certainly a happier life. In a wore 
besides the principles that are common to all, every natio 
has in itself something that gives them a particular appl 
cation, and makes its legislation peculiarly its own. Thu: 
among the Jews long ago and more recently among it 
Arabs, the chief object was religion, among the Atheniar 
letters, at Carthage and Tyre commerce, at Rhod< 
shipping, at Sparta war, at Rome virtue. The author c 

1 "Any branch of foreign commerce," says M.d Argenson, "creates on t 
whole only apparent advantage for the kingdom in general ; it may enri 
some individuals, or even some towns ; but the nation as a whole gai 
nothing by it, and the people is no better off." 

The Social Contract 47 

The Spirit of the Laws has shown with many examples by 
what art the legislator directs the constitution towards 
each of these objects. 

What makes the constitution of a State really solid and 
.asting is the due observance of what is proper, so that 
the natural relations are always in agreement with the laws 
on every point, and law only serves, so to speak, to assure, 
accompany and rectify them. But if the legislator 
mistakes his object and adopts a principle other than 
circumstances naturally direct ; if his principle makes for 
servitude while they make for liberty, or if it makes for 
riches, while they make for populousness, or if it makes 
for peace, while they make for conquest the laws will 
.nsensibly lose their influence, the constitution will alter, 
and the State will have no rest from trouble till it is either 
destroyed or changed, and nature has resumed her 
invincible sway. 



IF the whole is to be set in order, and the commonwealth 
jut into the best possible shape, there are various relations 
:o be considered. First, there is the action of the complete 
jody upon itself, the relation of the whole to the whole, 
of the Sovereign to the State; and this relation, as we 
shall see, is made up of the relations of the intermediate 

The laws which regulate this relation bear the name 
of political laws, and are also called fundamental laws, not 
without reason if they are wise. For, if there is, in each 
State, only one good system, the people that is in pos 
session of it should hold fast to this; but if the established 
>rder is bad, why should laws that prevent men from being 
ood be regarded as fundamental? /Besides, in any case, 
a people is always in a position to change its laws, how- 
2ver good ; for, if it choose to do itself harm, who can have 

right to stop it?| 

The second relation is that of the members one to> 
mother, or to the body as a whole ; and this relation should; 

48 The Social Contract 

be in the first respect as unimportant, and in the second 
as important, as possible. Each citizen would then be 
perfectly independent of all the rest, and at the same time 
very dependent on the city ; which is brought about always 
by the same means, as the strength of the State can alone 
secure the liberty of its members. From this second 
relation arise civil laws. 

We may consider also a third kind of relation between 
the individual and the law, a relation of disobedience to its 
penalty. This gives rise to the setting up of criminal 
laws, which, at bottom, are less a particular class of law 
than the sanction behind all the rest. 

Along with these three kinds of law goes a fourth, mo*! 
important of all, which is not graven on tablets of marble 
or brass, but on the hearts of the citizens. This forms the 
real constitution of the State, takes on every day new 
powers, when other laws decay or die out, restores them 
or takes their place, keeps a people in the ways in which it 
was meant to go, and insensibly replaces authority by the 
force of habit. I am speaking of morality, of custom, 
above all of public opinion ; a power unknown to political 
thinkers, on which none the less success in everything 
else depends. With this the great legislator concerns 
himself in secret, though he seems to confine himself tc 
particular regulations ; for these are only the arc of the 
arch, while manners and morajs, slower to arise, form ir 
the end its immovable keystone. 

Among the different classes of laws, the political, whicl 
determine the form of the government, are alone relevan; 
to my subject. 


BEFORE speaking of the different forms of government 
let us try to fix the exact sense of the word, which ha 
not yet been very clearly explained. 

The Social Contract 49 



I WARN the reader that this chapter requires careful 
eading, and that I am unable to make myself clear to 
lose who refuse to be attentive. 

Every free action is produced by the concurrence of two 

ausggj_gjie moral, i. e. the will which determines the act ; 
ic other physical, i. e. the power _whjch executes it. 

Vhen I walk towards an object, it is necessary first that 

should will to go there, and, in the second place, that 

ny feet should carry me. If a paralytic wills to run and 

n active man wills not to, they will both stay where they 

re. The body politic has the same motive powers ; here 

oo force and will are distinguished, will under the name 

f legislative power and force under that of executive 

ower. Without their concurrence, nothing is, or should 


We have seen that the legislative power belongs to thy 
can belong tQ.Jt-.-akm- It may, on the other 

and, readily be seen, from the principles laid down above, 
lat the executive power cannot belong to the generality 
s legislature or Sovereign, because it consists wholly of 
articular acts which fall outside the competency of the 
aw, and consequently of the Sovereign, whose acts must 
.ways be laws. 

The public force therefore needs an agent of its own l 
o bind it together and set it to work under the direction/ 
F the general will, to serve as a means of communication 
etween the State and the Sovereign, and to do for the 
ollective person more or less what the union of soul and 
ody does for man. Here we have what is, in the State, 
he basis of government, often wrongly confused with the"" 
overeign, whose minister it is. 

What theft is government?"^ An intermediate body set ~ 
p between the subjects and the Sovereign, to secure their 
rntual correspondence, charged with the execution of 

i laws and the maintenance of liberty, both civil and 
oil t leal. 

The members of this body are called magistrates or 
ings, that is to say governors, and the whole body bears 

r- 660 

50 The Social Contract 

the name prince. 1 Thus those who hold that the act, by 
which a people puts itself under a prince, is not a con 
tract, are certainly right. It is simply and solely a com 
mission, an employment, in which the rulers, mere officials 
of the Sovereign, exercise in their own name the power 
of which it makes them depositaries. This power it can 
limit, modify or recover at pleasure; for the alienation of 
such a right is incompatible with the nature of the social; 
body, and contrary to the end of association, 

I call then ^governmejtt, or supreme administration, 
legitimate exercise of the executive power, and prince o 
magistnrtg ~tHe~~rnau ui Uie_jbpjy_ejitFusted with tha 

In government reside the intermediate forces whos 
relations make up that of the whole to the whole, or o 
the Sovereign to the State. This last relation may be 
represented as that between the extreme terms of a con 
tinuous proportion, which has government as its mear 
proportional. The government gets from the Sovereig 
the orders it gives the people, and, for the State to be 
properly balanced, there must, when everything is reckonec 
in, be equality between the product or power of the govern 
ment taken in itself, and the product or power of th< 
citizens, who are on the one hand sovereign and on th< 
other subject. 

Furthermore, none of these three terms can be alterec 
without the equality being instantly destroyed. If th< 
Sovereign desires to govern, or the magistrate to giv( 
laws, or if the subjects refuse to obey, disorder takes th< 
place of regularity, force and will no longer act together 
and the State is dissolved and falls into despotism o 
anarchy. Lastly, as there is only one mean proportiona 
between each relation, there is also only one good govern 
ment possible for a State. But, as countless events ma 
change the relations of a people, not only may raifferen 
governments be good for different peoples,] but also fo 
the same people at different times. 

In attempting to give some idea of the various relation 
that may hold between these two extreme terms, I sha 

1 Thus at Venice the College, even in the absence of the Doge, is call* 
" Most Serene Prince." 

The Social Contract 51 

take as an example the number of a people, which is the 
most easily expressible. 

Suppose the State is composed of ten thousand citizens. 
The Sovereign can only be considered collectively and as 
a body ; but each member, as being a subject, is regarded 
as an individual : thus the Sovereign is to the subject as 
ten thousand to one, i. e. each member of the State has 
as his share only a ten-thousandth part of the sovereign 
authority, although he is wholly under its control. If the 
people numbers a hundred thousand, the condition of the 
subject undergoes no change, and each equally is under 
the whole authority of the laws, while his vote, being 
reduced to one "hundred thousandth part, has ten times 
influence in" drawing" therrr up/" The" subject therefore 
rernaSnir>gf aVWa"y< a~unu7 trie relation between him and the 
Sovereign increases with the number of the citizens. From 
this it follows that, the larger the State, the less the liberty. 

When I say the relation increases, I mean that it grows 
more unequal. Thus the greater it is in the geometrical 
sense, the less relation there is in the ordinary sense of 
the word. In the former sense, the relation, considered 
according to quantity, is expressed by the quotient; in 
the latter, considered according to identity, it is reckoned 
by similarity. 

Now, the less relation the particular wills have to the 
general will, that is, morals and manners to laws, the 
more should the repressive force be increased. The 
government, then, to be good, should be proportionately 
stronger as the people is more numerous. 

On the other hand, as the growth of the State gives 
the depositaries of the public authority more temptations 
and chances of abusing their power, the greater the force 
with which the government ought to be endowed for 
keeping the people in hand, the greater too should be 
the force at the disposal of the Sovereign for keeping the 
government in hand. I am speaking, not of absolute 
force, but of the relative force of the different parts of the 

It follows from this double relation that the continuous 
proportion between the Sovereign, the prince and the 
people, is by no means an arbitrary idea, but a necessary 
consequence of the nature of the body politic. It follows 

52 The Social Contract 

further that, one of the extreme terms, viz. the people, as 
subject, being fixed and represented by unity, whenever 
the duplicate ratio increases or diminishes, the simple ratio 
does the same, and is changed accordingly. From this we 
see that there is not a single unique and absolute form of 
government, but as many governments differing in nature 
as there are States differing in size. 

If, ridiculing this system, any one were to say that, 
in order to find the mean proportional and give form to 
the body of the government, it is only necessary, accord 
ing to me, to find the square root of the number of the 
people, I should answer that I am here taking this number 
only as an instance ; that the relations of which I am 
speaking are not measured by the number of men alone, 
but generally by the amount of action, which is a com 
bination of a multitude of causes ; and that, further, if, 
to save words, I borrow for a moment the terms of 
geometry, I am none the less well aware that moral 
quantities do not allow of geometrical accuracy. 

The government is on a small scale what the body 
politic which includes it is on a great one. It is a moral 
person endowed with certain faculties, active like the 
Sovereign and passive like the State, and capable of being 
resolved into other similar relations. This accordingly 
gives rise to a new proportion, within which there is yet 
another, according to the arrangement of the magistracies, 
till an indivisible middle term is reached, t. e. a single 
ruler or supreme magistrate, who may be represented, 
in the midst of this progression, as the unity between the 
fractional and the ordinal series. 

Without encumbering ourselves with this multiplication 
of terms, let us rest content with regarding government 
as a new body within the State, distinct from the people 
and the Sovereign, and intermediate between them. 

There is between these two bodies this essential differ 
ence, that the State exists by itself, and the government 
only through the Sovereign. Thus the dominant will of 
the prince is, or should be, nothing but the general will 
or the law ; his force is only the public force concentrated 
in his hands, and, as soon as he tries to base any absolute 
and independent act on his own authority, the tie that 
binds the whole together begins to be loosened. If finalh 

The Social Contract 53 

the prince should come to have a particular will more 
active than the will of the Sovereign, and should employ 
the public force in his hands in obedience to this particular 
will, there would be, so to speak, two Sovereigns, one 
rightful and the other actual, the social union would evapor 
ate instantly, and the body politic would be dissolved. 

However, in order that the government may have a 
true existence and a real life distinguishing it from the 
body of the State, and in order that all its members may 
be able to act in concert and fulfil the end for which it 
was set up, it must have a particular personality, a sensi 
bility common to its members, and a force and will of its 
own making for its preservation. This particular exist 
ence implies assemblies, councils, power of deliberation 
and decision, rights, titles, and privileges belonging ex 
clusively to the prince and making the office of magistrate 
more honourable in proportion as it is more troublesome. 
The difficulties lie in the manner of so ordering this sub 
ordinate whole within the whole, that it in no way alters 
the general constitution by affirmation of its own, and 
always distinguishes the particular force it possesses, 
which is destined to aid in its preservation, from the public 
force, which is destined to the preservation of the State ; 
and, in a word, is always ready to sacrifice the govern 
ment to the people, and never to sacrifice the people to the 

Furthermore, although the artificial body of the govern 
ment is the work of another artificial body, and has, we 
may say, only a borrowed and subordinate life, this does 
not prevent it from being able to act with more or less 
vigour or promptitude, or from being, so to speak, in 
more or less robust health. Finally, without departing 
directly from the end for which it was instituted, it may 
deviate more or less from it, according to the manner of 
its constitution. 

From all these differences arise the various relations 
which the government ought to bear to the body of the 
State, according to the accidental and particular relations 
by which the State itself is modified, for often the govern 
ment that is best in itself will become the most pernicious, 
if the relations in which it stands have altered according 
to the defects of the body politic to which it belongs. 

54 The Social Contract 



To set forth the general cause of the above differences, 
we must here distinguish between government and its 
principle, as we did before between the State and the 

The body of the magistrate may be composed of a 
greater or a less number of members. We said that the 
relation of the Sovereign to the subjects was greater in 
proportion as the people was more numerous, and, by a 
clear analogy, we may say the same of the relation of the 
government to the magistrates. 

But the total force of the government, being always 
that of the State, is invariable ; so that, the more of this 
force it expends on its own members, the less it has left 
to employ on the whole people. 

The more numerous the magistrates, therefore, the 
weaker the government. This principle being funda 
mental, we must do our best to make it clear. 

In the person of the magistrate we can distinguish three 
essentially different wills : first, the private will of the 
individual, tending only to his personal advantage ; 
secondly, the common will of the magistrates, which is 
relative solely to the advantage of the prince, and may 
be called corporate will, being general in relation to the 
government, and particular in relation to the State, of 
which the government forms part ; and, in the third place, 
the will of the people or the sovereign will, which is 
general both in relation to the State regarded as the whole, 
and to the government regarded as a part of the whole. 

In a perfect act of legislation, the individual or par 
ticular will should be at zero ; the corporate will belong 
ing to the government should occupy a very subordinate 
position ; and, consequently, the general or sovereign will 
should always predominate and should be the sole guide 
of all the rest. 

According to the natural order, on the other hand, these 
different wills become more active in proportion as they 
are concentrated. Thus, the general will is always the 

The Social Contract 55 

weakest, the corporate will second, and the individual will 
strongest of all : so that, in the government, each member 
s first of all himself, then a magistrate, and then a citizen 
in an order exactly the reverse of what the social system 
r equires. 

This granted, if the whole government is in the hands \ 

one man, the particular and the corporate will are wholly 
jnited, and consequently the latter is at its highest possible 
degree of intensity. But, as the use to which the force is 
Dut depends on the degree reached by the will, and as the 
absolute force of the government is invariable, it follows 
hat the most active government is that of one man. 

Suppose, on the other hand, we unite the government 
vith the legislative authority, and make the Sovereign 
Drince also, and all the citizens so many magistrates : 
hen the corporate will, being confounded with the general 
ivill, can possess no greater activity than that will, and 
nust leave the particular will as strong as it can possibly 
DC. Thus, the government, having always the same 
absolute force, will be at the lowest point of its relative 
orce or activity. 

These relations are incontestable, and there are other 
considerations which still further confirm them. We can 
see, for instance, that each magistrate is more active in 
he body to which he belongs than each citizen in that to 
which he belongs, and that consequently the particular 
will has much more influence on the acts of the govern 
ment than on those of the Sovereign ; for each magistrate 
s almost always charged with some governmental func 
tion, while each citizen, taken singly, exercises no function 
of Sovereignty. Furthermore, the bigger the State grows, 
the more its real force increases, though not in direct pro 
portion to its growth ; but, the State remaining the same, 
the number of magistrates may increase to any extent, 
without the government gaining any greater real force; 
for its force is that of the State, the dimension of which 
remains equal. Thus the relative force or activity of the 
government decreases, while its absolute or real force 
cannot increase. 

Moreover, it is a certainty that promptitude in execution 
diminishes as more people are put in charge of it : where 
prudence is made too much of, not enough is made of 

56 The Social Contract 

fortune; opportunity is let slip, and deliberation results in 
the loss of its object. 

I have just proved that the government grows remiss 
in proportion as the number of the magistrates increases ; 
and I previously proved that, the more numerous the 
people, the greater should be the repressive force. From 
this it follows that the relation of the magistrates to the 
government should vary inversely to the relation of the 
subjects to the Sovereign ; that is to say, the larger 
the State, the more should the government be tightened, 
so that the number of the rulers diminish in proportion to 
the increase of that of the people. 

It should be added that I am here speaking of the 
relative strength of the government, and not of its recti 
tude : for, on the other hand, the more numerous the 
magistracy, the nearer the corporate will comes to the 
general will ; while, under a single magistrate, the cor 
porate will is, as I said, merely a particular will. Thus, 
what may be gained on one side is lost on the other, and 
the art of the legislator is to know how to fix the point at 
which the force and the will of the government, which are 
always in inverse proportion, meet in the relation that is 
most to the advantage of the State. 



WE sa\^ in the last chapter what causes the various 
kinds or forms of government to be distinguished accord 
ing to the number of the members composing them : it 
remains in this to discover how the division is made. 

In the first place, the Sovereign may commit the charge 
of the government to the whole people or to the majority 
of the people, so that more citizens are magistrates than 
are mere private individuals. This form of government 
is called democracy. 

Or it may restrict the government to a small number, 
so that there are more private citizens than magistrates ; 
and this is named aristocracy. 

Lastly, it may concentrate the whole government in the 

The Social Contract 57 

lands of a single magistrate from whom all others hold 
their power. This third form is the most usual, and is 
:alled monarchy, or royal government. 

It should be remarked that all these forms, or at least 
the first two, admit of degree, and even of very wide 
differences; for democracy may include the whole people, 
may be restricted to half. Aristocracy, in its turn, may 
3e restricted indefinitely from half the people down to the 
smallest possible number. Even royalty is susceptible of 
a measure of distribution. Sparta always had two kings, 
as its constitution provided ; and the Roman Empire saw 
as many as eight emperors at once, without it being 
possible to say that the Empire was split up. Thus there 
s a point at which each form of government passes into 
the next, and it becomes clear that, under three compre- 
lensive denominations, government is really susceptible of 
as many diverse forms as the State has citizens. 

There are even more : for, as the government may also, 
n certain aspects, be subdivided into other parts, one 
administered in one fashion and one in another, the com- 
jination of the three forms may result in a multitude of 
mixed forms, each of which admits of multiplication by 
ill the simple forms. 

There has been at all times much dispute concerning 
the best form of government, without consideration of the 
: act that each is in some cases the best, and in others the 

If, in the different States, the number of supreme magis 
trates should be in inverse ratio to the number of citizens, 
t follows that, generally, democratic government suits 
small States, aristocratic government those of middle size, 
and monarchy great ones. This rule is immediately 
deducible from the principle laid down. But it is impos 
sible to count the innumerable circumstances which may 
: urnish exceptions. 



HE who makes the law knows better than any one else 
low it should be executed and interpreted. It seems then 

58 The Social Contract 

impossible to have a better constitution than that in which 
the executive and legislative powers are united ; but this 
very fact renders the government in certain respects in 
adequate, because things which should be distinguished 
are confounded, and the prince and the Sovereign, being 
the same person, form, so to speak, no more than a 
government without government. 

It is not good for him who makes the laws to execute 
them, or for the body of the people to turn its attention 
away from a general standpoint and devote it to particular 
objects. Nothing is more dangerous than the influence of 
private interests in public affairs, and the abuse of the 
laws by the government is a less evil than the corruption 
of the legislator, which is the inevitable sequel to a par 
ticular standpoint. In such a case, the State being altered 
in substance, all reformation becomes impossible. A 
people that would never misuse governmental powers 
would never misuse independence ; a people that would 
always govern well would not need to be governed. 

If we take the term in the strict sense, there never has 
been a real democracy, and there never will be. It is 
against the natural order for the many to govern and the 
few to be governed. It is unimaginable that the people 
should remain continually assembled to devote their time 
to public affairs, and it is clear that they cannot set up 
commissions for that purpose without the form of adminis 
tration being changed. 

In fact, I can confidently lay down as a principle that, 
when the functions of government are shared by several 
tribunals, the less numerous sooner or later acquire the 
greatest authority, if only because they are in a position 
to expedite affairs, and power thus naturally comes into 
their hands. 

Besides, how many conditions that are difficult to unite 
does such a government presuppose ! First, a very small 
State, where the people can readily be got together and 
where each citizen can with ease know all the rest ; 
secondly, great simplicity of manners, to prevent business 
from multiplying and raising thorny problems ; next, 2 
large measure of equality in rank and fortune, without 
which equality of rights and authority cannot long subsist 
lastly, little or no luxury for luxury either comes o: 

The Social Contract 59 

iches or makes them necessary ; it corrupts at once rich 
nd poor, the rich by possession and the poor by covetous- 
ess ; it sells the country to softness and vanity, and takes 
way from the State all its citizens, to make them slaves 
ne to another, and one and all to public opinion. 

This is why a famous writer has made virtue the funda- 
nental principle of Republics ; for all these conditions could 
aot exist without virtue. But, for want of the necessary 
listinctions, that great thinker was often inexact, and 
ometimes obscure, and did not see that, the sovereign 
uthority being everywhere the same, the same principle 
hould be found in every well-constituted State, in a 
greater or less degree, it is true, according to the form of 
he government. 

It may be added that there is no government so subject 
o civil wars and intestine agitations as democratic or 
popular government, because there is none which has so 
trong and continual a tendency to change to another 
orm, or which demands more vigilance and courage for 
ts maintenance as it is. Under such a constitution above 
ill, the citizen should arm himself with strength and con- 
tancy, and say, every day of his life, what a virtuous 
^ount Palatine 1 said in the Diet of Poland : Malo peri- 
ulosam libertatem quam quietum servitium. 

Were there a people of gods, their government would 
be democratic. So perfect a government is not for men. 



WE have here two quite distinct moral persons, the 
government and the Sovereign, and in consequence two 
general wills, one general in relation to all the citizens, 
!he other only for the members of the administration. 
Thus, although the government may regulate its internal 
policy as it pleases, it can never speak to the people save 

1 The Palatine of Posen, father of the King of Poland, Duke of Lor- 
aine. [I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery.] 

6o The Social Contract 

in the name of the Sovereign, that is, of the people itself, 
a fact which must not be forgotten. 

The first societies governed themselves aristocratically. 
The heads of families took counsel together on public 
affairs. The young bowed without question to the 
authority of experience. Hence such names as priests 
elders, senate, and gerontes. The savages of North 
America govern themselves in this way even now, anc 
their government is admirable. 

But, in proportion as artificial inequality produced by 
institutions became predominant over natural inequality, 
riches or power x were put before age, and aristocracy 
became elective. Finally, the transmission of the father s 
power along with his goods to his children, by creating 
patrician families, made government hereditary, and there 
came to be senators of twenty. 

There are then three sorts of aristocracy natural, 
elective and hereditary. The first is only for simple 
peoples ; the third is the worst of all governments ; th< 
second is the best, and is aristocracy properly so called. 

Besides the advantage that lies in the distinction betweer 
the two powers, it presents that of its members being 
chosen ; for, in popular government, all the citizens arc 
born magistrates ; but here magistracy is confined to 
few, who become such only by election. 2 By this mean: 
uprightness, understanding, experience and all othei 
claims to pre-eminence and public esteem become so man} 
further guarantees of wise government. 

Moreover, assemblies are more easily held, affairs bette 
discussed and carried out with more order and diligence 
and the credit of the State is better sustained abroad b 1 
venerable senators than by a multitude that is unknowi 
or despised. 

In a word, it is the best and most natural arrangemen 

1 It is clear that the word optimatcs meant, among the ancients, not th 
best, hut the most powerful. 

* It is of great importance that the form of the election of magistrate 
should be regulated by law ; for if it is left at the discretion of the prince 
it is impossible to avoid falling into hereditary aristocracy, as the Republic 
of Venice and Berne actually did. The first of these has therefore Ion 
been a State dissolved ; the second, however, is maintained by the extrem 
wisdom of the senate, and forms an honourable and highly dangerou 

The Social Contract 61 

iat the wisest should govern the many, when it is assured 
mt they will govern for its profit, and not for their own. 
"here is no need to multiply instruments, or get twenty 
lousand men to do what a hundred picked men can do 
ven better. But it must not be forgotten that corporate 
nterest here begins to direct the public power less under 
he regulation of the general will, and that a further 
nevitable propensity takes away from the laws part of 
executive power. 

If we are to speak of what is individually desirable, 
either should the State be so small, nor a people so 
imple and upright, that the execution of the laws follows 
mmediately from the public will, as it does in a good 
emocracy. Nor should the nation be so great that the 
ulers have to scatter in order to govern it and are able 
o play the Sovereign each in his own department, and, 
eginning by making themselves independent, end by 
ecomir.g masters. 

But if aristocracy does not demand all the virtues needed 
y popular government, it demands others which are 
eculiar to itself ; for instance, moderation on the side of 
ic rich and contentment on that of the poor ; for it seems 
iat thorough-going equality would be out of place, as it 
as not found even at Sparta. 

Furthermore, if this form of government carries with it 

certain inequality of fortune, this is justifiable in order 
lat as a rule the administration of public affairs may be 
ntrusted to those who are most able to give them their 
hole time, but not, as Aristotle maintains, in order that 
le rich may always be put first. On the contrary, it is 
f importance that an opposite choice should occasionally 
each the people that the deserts of men offer claims to 
re-eminence more important than those of riches. 



So far, we have considered the prince as a moral and 
ollective person, unified by the force of the laws, and the 
epositary in the State of the executive power. We have 

62 The Social Contract 

now to consider this power when it is gathered together 
into the hands of a natural person, a real man, who alone 
has the right to dispose of it in accordance with the laws. 
Such a person is called a monarch or king. 

In contrast with other forms of administration, in which 
a collective being stands for an individual, in this form 
an individual stands for a collective being ; so that th 
moral unity that constitutes the prince is at the same tim 
a physical unity, and all the qualities, which in the othe 
case are only with difficulty brought together by the law 
are found naturally united. 

Thus the will of the people, the will of the prince, th 
public force of the State, and the particular force of th 
government, all answer to a single motive power ; a 
the springs of the machine are in the same hands, th 
whole moves towards the same end ; there are no conflict 
ing movements to cancel one another, and no kind 
constitution can be imagined in which a less amount o 
effort produces a more considerable amount of action 
Archimedes, seated quietly on the bank and easily drawin 
a great vessel afloat, stands to my mind for a skilfu 
monarch, governing vast states from his study, an 
moving everything while he seems himself unmoved. 

But if no government is more vigorous than this, ther 
is also none in which the particular will holds more swa 
and rules the rest more easily. Everything moves toward 
the same end indeed, but this end is by no means that o 
the public happiness, and even the force of the administra 
tion constantly shows itself prejudicial to the State. 

Kings desire to be absolute, and men are always cryinj 
out to them from afar that the best means of being so i 
to get themselves loved by their people. This precept 
all very well, and even in some respects very true. Unfoi 
tunately, it will always be derfded at court. The powe 
which comes of a people s love is no doubt the greatest 
but it is precarious and conditional, and princes will neve 
rest content with it. The best kings desire to be in 
position to be wicked, if they please, without forfeitin 
their mastery : political sermonisers may tell them to the: 
hearts content that, the people s strength being the 
own, their first interest is that the people should be pro: 
perous, numerous and formidable ; they are well aware th; 

The Social Contract 63 

his is untrue. Their first personal interest is that the 
people should be weak, wretched, and unable to resist 
hem. I admit that, provided the subjects remained always 
n submission, the prince s interest would indeed be that 
t should be powerful, in order that its power, being his 
)wn, might make him formidable to his neighbours; but, 
his interest being merely secondary and subordinate, and 
trength being incompatible with submission, princes 
laturally give the preference always to the principle that 
s more to their immediate advantage. This is what 
Samuel put strongly before the Hebrews, and what 
Vlacchiavelli has clearly shown. He professed to teach 
dngs ; but it was the people he really taught. His Prince 
s the book of Republicans. 1 

We found, on general grounds, that monarchy is suit- 
tble only for great States, and this is confirmed when we 
examine it in itself. The more numerous the public 
administration, the smaller becomes the relation between 
:he prince and the subjects, and the nearer it comes to 
equality, so that in democracy the ratio is unity, or abso- 
ute equality. Again, as the government is restricted in 
numbers the ratio increases and reaches its maximum 
tvhen the government is in the hands of a single person. 
There is then too great a distance between prince and 
people, and the State lacks a bond of union. To form 
such a bond, there must be intermediate orders, and 
Drinces, personages and nobility to compose them. But 
no such things suit a small State, to which all class 
differences mean ruin. 

If, however, it is hard for a great State to be well 
governed, it is much harder for it to be so by a single 
man ; and every one knows what happens when kings 
substitute others for themselves. 

An essential and inevitable defect, which will always 

1 Macchiavelli was a proper man and a good citizen ; but, being attached 
:o the court of the Medici, he could not help veiling his love of liberty in 
he midst of his country s oppression. The choice of his detestable hero, 
Daesar Borgia, clearly enough shows his hidden aim ; and the contradiction 
Between the teaching of the Prince and that of the Discourses on Livy and 
he History of Florence shows that this profound political thinker has so far 
3een studied only by superficial or corrupt readers. The Court of Rome 
sternly prohibited his book. I can well believe it ; for it is that Court it 
Tiost clearly portrays. 


The Social Contract 

rank monarchical below republican government, is that in 
a republic the public voice hardly ever raises to the highest 
positions men who are not enlightened and capable, and 
such as to fill them with honour ; while in monarchies those 
who rise to the top are most often merely petty blunderers, 
petty swindlers, and petty intriguers, whose petty talents 
cause them to get into the highest positions at Court, but, 
as soon as they have got there, serve only to make their 
ineptitude clear to the public. The people is far less often 
mistaken in its choice than the prince ; and a man of real 
worth among the king s ministers is almost as rare as a 
fool at the head of a republican government. Thus, when, 
by some fortunate chance, one of these born governors 
takes the helm of State in some monarchy that has been 
nearly overwhelmed by swarms of gentlemanly adminis 
trators, there is nothing but amazement at the resources 
he discovers, and his coming marks an era in his country s 

For a monarchical State to have a chance of being well 
governed, its population and extent must be proportionate 
to the abilities of its governor. It is easier to conquer 
than to rule. With a long enough lever, the world could 
be moved with a single finger ; to sustain it needs the 
shoulders of Hercules. However small a State may be, 
the prince is hardly ever big enough for it. When, on the 
other hand, it happens that the State is too small for its 
ruler, in these rare cases too it is ill governed, because 
the ruler, constantly pursuing his great designs, forgets 
the interests of the people, and makes it no less wretched 
by misusing the talents he has, than a ruler of less 
capacity would make it for want of those he had not. 
A kingdom should, so to speak, expand or contract with 
each reign, according to the prince s capabilities; but, 
the abilities of a senate being more constant in quantity, 
the State can then have permanent frontiers without the 
administration suffering. 

The disadvantage that is most felt in monarchical 
government is the want of the continuous succession 
which, in both the other forms, provides an unbroken 
bond of union. When one king dies, another is needed ; 
elections leave dangerous, intervals and are full of storms; 
and unless the citizens are disinterested and upright to a 

The Social Contract 65 

degree which very seldom goes with this kind of govern 
ment, intrigue and corruption abound. He to whom the 
State has sold itself can hardly help selling it in his turn 
and repaying himself, at the expense of the weak, the 
money the powerful have wrung from him. Under such 
an administration, venality sooner or later spreads 
through every part, and peace so enjoyed under a king 
s worse than the disorders of an interregnum. 

What has been done to prevent these evils? Crowns 
have been made hereditary in certain families, and an 
order of succession has been set up, to prevent disputes 
trom arising on the death of kings. That is to say, the 
disadvantages of regency have been put in place of those 
of election, apparent tranquillity has been preferred to 
wise administration, and men have chosen rather to risk 
laving children, monstrosities, or imbeciles as rulers to 
laving disputes over the choice of good kings. It has 
not been taken into account that, in so exposing ourselves 
to the risks this possibility entails, we are setting almost 
all the chances against us. There was sound sense in 
what the younger Dionysius said to his father, who 
reproached him for doing some shameful deed by asking, 
Did I set you the example?" "No," answered his son, 
but your father was not king." 

Everything conspires to take away from a man who is 
set in authority over others the sense of justice and reason. 
Much trouble, we are told, is taken to teach young princes 
the art of reigning ; but their education seems to do them 
no good. It would be better to begin by teaching them 
the art of obeying. The greatest kings whose praises 
history tells were not brought up to reign : reigning is a 
science we are never so far from possessing as when we 
have learnt too much of it, and one we acquire better by 
obeying than by commanding. " Nam utilissimus idem 
ac brevissimus bonarum malarumque rerum delectus cogi- 
tare quid aut nolueris sub alio principe, aut volueris." 1 

One result of this lack of coherence is the inconstancy 
of royal government, which, regulated now on one scheme 

1 Tacitus, Histories^ i. 16. " For the best, and also the shortest way of 
inding out what is good and what is bad is to consider what you would 
lave wished to happen or not to happen, had another than you been 
H 66 

66 The Social Contract 

and now on another, according to the character of the 
reigning prince or those who reign for him, cannot for 
long have a fixed object or a consistent policy and this 
variability, not found in the other forms of government, 
where the prince is always the same, causes the State to 
be always shifting from principle to principle and from 
project to project. Thus we may say that generally, if a 
court is more subtle in intrigue, there is more wisdom in a 
senate, and Republics advance towards their ends by more 
consistent and better considered policies ; while every 
revolution in a royal ministry creates a revolution in the 
State ; for the principle common to all ministers and nearly 
all kings is to do in every respect the reverse of what was 
done by their predecessors. 

This incoherence further clears up a sophism that is very 
familiar to royalist political writers ; not only is civi 
government likened to domestic government, and the 
prince to the father of a family this error has already 
been refuted but the prince is also freely credited with 
all the virtues he ought to possess, and is supposed to be 
always what he should be. This supposition once made 
royal government is clearly preferable to all others, 
because it is incontestably the strongest, and, to be the 
best also, wants only a corporate will more in conformity 
with the general will. 

But if, according to Plato, 1 the "king by nature" is 
such a rarity, how often will nature and fortune conspire 
to give him a crown? And, if royal education necessarily 
corrupts those who receive it, what is to be hoped from 
a series of men brought up to reign? It is, then, wanton 
self-deception to confuse royal government with govern 
ment by a good king. To see such government as it is ir 
itself, we must consider it as it is under princes who are 
incompetent or wicked : for either they will come to th< 
throne wicked or incompetent, or the throne will make 
them so. 

These difficulties have not escaped our writers, who 
all the same, are not troubled by them. The remedy, the} 
say, is to obey without a murmur : God sends bad king: 
in His wrath, and they must be borne as the scourges o 

1 In the Politicks. 

The Social Contract 67 

Heaven. Such talk is doubtless edifying ; but it would be 
more in place in a pulpit than in a political book. What 
are we to think of a doctor who promises miracles, and 
whose whole art is to exhort the sufferer to patience? 
We know for ourselves that we must put up with a bad 
government when it is there; the question is how to find 
a good one. 



STRICTLY speaking, there is no such thing as a simple 
government. An isolated ruler must have subordinate 
magistrates ; a popular government must have a head. 
There is therefore, in the distribution of the executive 
power, always a gradation from the greater to the lesser 
number, with the difference that sometimes the greater 
number is dependent on the smaller, and sometimes the 
smaller on the greater. 

Sometimes the distribution is equal, when either the 
constituent parts are in mutual dependence, as in the 
government of England, or the authority of each section 
is independent, but imperfect, as in Poland. This last 
form is bad ; for it secures no unity in the government, 
and the State is left without a bond of union. 

Is a simple or a mixed government the better? Political 
writers are always debating the question, which must be 
answered as we have already answered a question about 
all forms of government. 

Simple government is better in itself, just because it is 
simple. But when the executive power is not sufficiently 
dependent upon the legislative power, i. e. when the prince 
is more closely related to the Sovereign than the people 
to the prince, this lack of proportion must be cured by the 
division of the government; for all the parts have then 
no less authority over the subjects, while their division 
makes them all together less strong against the Sovereign. 

The same disadvantage is also prevented by the appoint 
ment of intermediate magistrates, who leave the govern 
ment entire, and have the effect only of balancing the 

68 The Social Contract 

two powers and maintaining- their respective rights. 
Government is then not mixed, but moderated. 

The opposite disadvantages may be similarly cured, 
and, when the government is too lax, tribunals may be 
set up to concentrate it. This is done in all democracies. 
In the first case, the government is divided to make it 
weak ; in the second, to make it strong : for the maxima 
of both strength and weakness are found in simple govern 
ments, while the mixed forms result in a mean strength. 



LIBERTY, not being a fruit of all climates, is not within 
the reach of all peoples. The more this principle, laid 
down by Montesquieu, is considered, the more its truth is 
felt; the more it is combated, the more chance is given 
to confirm it by new proofs. 

In all the governments that there are, the public person 
consumes without producing. Whence then does it get 
what it consumes? From the labour of its members. 
The necessities of the public are supplied out of the super 
fluities of individuals. It follows that the civil State can 
subsist only so long as men s labour brings them a return 
greater than their needs. 

The amount of this excess is not the same in all 
countries. In some it is considerable, in others middling, 
in yet others nil, in some even negative. The relation of 
product to subsistence depends on the fertility of the 
climate, on the sort of labour the land demands, on the 
nature of its products, on the strength of its inhabitants, 
on the greater or less consumption they find necessary, 
and on several further considerations of which the whole 
relation is made up. 

On the other side, all governments are not of the same 
nature : some are less voracious than others, and the 
differences between them are based on this second prin 
ciple, that the further from their source the public con 
tributions are removed, the more burdensome they become. 

The Social Contract 69 

The charge should be measured not by the amount of the 
impositions, but by the path they have to travel in order 
to get back to those from whom they came. When the 
circulation is prompt and well-established, it does not 
matter whether much or little is paid ; the people is always 
rich and, financially speaking, all is well. On the con 
trary, however little the people gives, if that little does 
not return to it, it is soon exhausted by giving continually : 
the State is then never rich, and the people is always a 
people of beggars. 

It follows that, the more the distance between people 
and government increases, the more burdensome tribute 
becomes : thus, in a democracy, the people bears the least 
charge ; in an aristocracy, a greater charge ; and, in 
monarchy, the weight becomes heaviest. Monarchy there 
fore suits only wealthy nations ; aristocracy, States of 
middling size and wealth ; and democracy, States that are 
small and poor. 

In fact, the more we reflect, the more we find the differ 
ence between free and monarchical States to be this : in 
the former, everything is used for the public advantage ; 
in the latter, the public forces and those of individuals are 
affected by each other, and either increases as the other 
grows weak ; finally, instead of governing subjects to 
make them happy, despotism makes them wretched in 
order to govern them. 

We find then, in every climate, natural causes according 
to which the form of government which it requires can 
be assigned, and we can even say what sort of inhabitants 
it should have. 

Unfriendly and barren lands, where the product does 
not repay the labour, should remain desert and unculti 
vated, or peopled only by savages; lands where men s 
labour brings in no more than the exact minimum neces 
sary to subsistence should be inhabited by barbarous 
peoples : in such places all polity is impossible. Lands 
where the surplus of product over labour is only middling 
are suitable for free peoples ; those in which the soil is 
abundant and fertile and gives a great product for a little 
labour call for monarchical government, in order that the 
surplus of superfluities among the subjects may be con 
sumed by the luxury of the prince : for it is better for this 

70 The Social Contract 

excess to be absorbed by the government than dissipated 
among the individuals. I am aware that there are excep 
tions ; but these exceptions themselves confirm the rule, 
in that sooner or later they produce revolutions which 
restore things to the natural order. 

General laws should always be distinguished from indi 
vidual causes that may modify their effects. If all the 
South were covered with Republics and all the North with 
despotic States, it would be none the less true that, in 
point of climate, despotism is suitable to hot countries, 
barbarism to cold countries, and good polity to temperate 
regions. I see also that, the principle being granted, 
there may be disputes on its application ; it may be said 
that there are cold countries that are very fertile, and 
tropical countries that are very unproductive. But this 
difficulty exists only for those who do not consider the 
question in all its aspects. We must, as I have already 
said, take labour, strength, consumption, etc., into 

Take two tracts of equal extent, one of which brings 
in five and the other ten. If the inhabitants of the first 
consume four and those of the second nine, the surplus of 
the first product will be a fifth and that of the second a 
tenth. The ratio of these two surpluses will then be 
inverse to that of the products, and the tract which pro 
duces only five will give a surplus double that of the tract 
which produces ten. 

But there is no question of a double product, and I 
think no one would put the fertility of cold countries, as 
a general rule, on an equality with that of hot ones. Let 
us, however, suppose this equality to exist : let us, if you 
will, regard England as on the same level as Sicily, and 
Poland as Egypt further south, we shall have Africa and 
the Indies ; further north, nothing at all. To get this 
equality of product, what a difference there must be in 
tillage : in Sicily, there is only need to scratch the ground ; 
in England, how men must toil ! But, where more hands 
are needed to get the same product, the superfluity must 
necessarily be less. 

Consider, besides, that the same number of men con 
sume much less in hot countries. The climate requires 
sobriety for the sake of health ; and Europeans who try to 

The Social Contract 71 

live there as they would at home all perish of dysentery 
and indigestion. "We are," says Chardin, "carnivorous 
animals, wolves, in comparison with the Asiatics. Some 
attribute the sobriety of the Persians to the fact that their 
country is less cultivated ; but it is my belief that their 
country abounds less in commodities because the inhabit 
ants need less. If their frugality," he goes on, "were 
the effect of the nakedness of the land, only the poor would 
eat little ; but everybody does so. Again, less or more 
would be eaten in various provinces, according to the 
land s fertility; but the same sobriety is found throughout 
the kingdom. They are very proud of their manner of 
life, saying that you have only to look at their hue to 
recognise how far it excels that of the Christians. In fact, 
the Persians are of an even hue ; their skins are fair, fine 
and smooth ; while the hue of their subjects, the Arme 
nians, who live after the European fashion, is rough and 
blotchy, and their bodies are gross and unwieldy." 

The nearer you get to the equator, the less people live 
on. Meat they hardly touch ; rice, maize, curcur, millet 
and cassava are their ordinary food. There are in the 
Indies millions of men whose subsistence does not cost a 
halfpenny a day. Even in Europe we find considerable 
differences of appetite between Northern and Southern 
peoples. A Spaniard will live for a week on a German s 
dinner. In the countries in which men are more vora 
cious, luxury therefore turns in the direction of con 
sumption. In England, luxury appears in a well-filled 
table; in Italy, you feast on sugar and flowers. 

Luxury in clothes shows similar differences. In climates i 
in which the changes of season are prompt and violent, 
men have better and simpler clothes ; where they clothe 
themselves only for adornment, what is striking is more 
thought of than what is useful; clothes themselves are 
then a luxury. At Naples, you may see daily walking in 
the Pausilippeum men in gold-embroidered upper gar 
ments and nothing else. It is the same with buildings ; 
magnificence is the sole consideration where there is 
nothing to fear from the air. In Paris and London, you 
desire to be lodged warmly and comfortably; in Madrid, 
you have superb salons, but not a window that closes, and 
you go to bed in a mere hole. 

72 The Social Contract 

In hot countries foods are much more substantial and 
succulent; and the third difference cannot but have an 
influence on the second. Why are so many vegetables 
eaten in Italy? Because there they are good, nutritious 
and excellent in taste. In France, where they are 
nourished only on water, they are far from nutritious and 
are thought nothing of at table. They take up all the 
same no less ground, and cost at least as much pains to 
cultivate. It is a proved fact that the wheat of Barbary, 
in other respects inferior to that of France, yields much 
more flour, and that the wheat of France in turn yields 
more than that of northern countries; from which it may 
be inferred that a like gradation in the same direction, 
from equator to pole, is found generally. But is it not an 
obvious disadvantage for an equal product to contain 
less nourishment? 

To all these points may be added another, which at oncf 
depends on and strengthens them. Hot countries need 
inhabitants less than cold countries, and can support more 
of them. There is thus a double surplus, which is all tc 
the advantage of despotism. The greater the territory 
occupied by a fixed number of inhabitants, the more diffi 
cult revolt becomes, because rapid or secret concertec 
action is impossible, and the government can easily un 
mask projects and cut communications; but the more j 
numerous people is gathered together, the less can the 
government usurp the Sovereign s place : the people s 
leaders can deliberate as safely in their houses as the 
prince in council, and the crowd gathers as rapidly in th< 
squares as the prince s troops in their quarters. Th( 
advantage of tyrannical government therefore lies in acting 
at great distances. With the help of the rallying-point: 
it establishes, its strength, like that of the lever, 1 grow: 
with distance. The strength of the people, on the othe: 
hand, acts only when concentrated : when spread abroad 

1 This does not contradict what I said before (Book ii, ch. ix) ahou 
the disadvantages of great States ; for we were then dealing with th; 
authority of the government over the members, while here we are dealing 
with its force against the subjects. Its scattered members serve it as rally 
ing-points for action against the people at a distance, but it has no rallying 
point for direct action on its members themselves. Thus the length of th> 
lever is its weakness in the one case, and its strength in the other. 

The Social Contract 73 

it evaporates and is lost, like powder scattered on the 
ground, which catches fire only grain by grain. The 
least populous countries are thus the fittest for tyranny : 
Scree animals reign only in deserts. 



THE question " What absolutely is the best govern- 
ent? " is unanswerable as well as indeterminate; or 
ther, there are as many good answers as there are 
ssible combinations in the absolute and relative situa- 
ms of all nations. 

But if it is asked by what sign we may know that a 
ven people is well or ill governed, that is another matter, 
d the question, being one of fact, admits of an answer. 
It is not, however, answered, because every-one wants 
answer it in his own way. Subjects extol public tran- 
illity, citizens individual liberty ; the one class prefers 
curity of possessions, the other that of person ; the one 
jards as the best government that which is most severe, 
e other maintains that the mildest is the best ; the one 
ants crimes punished, the other wants them prevented ; 
e one wants the State to be feared by its neighbours,, 
e other prefers that it should be ignored ; the one is- 
ntent if money circulates, the other demands that the 
ople shall have bread. Even if an agreement were 
me to on these and similar points, should we have got 
y further? As moral qualities do not admit of exact 
easurement, agreement about the mark does not mean 
jreement about the valuation. 

For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark 
simple is not recognised, or that men are of so bad 
ith as not to admit it. What is the end of political 
ssociation? The preservation and prosperity of its 
embers. And what is the surest mark of their preserva- 
on and prosperity? Their numbers and population, 
then nowhere else this mark that is in dispute. The 
:st being equal, the government under which, without 
eternal aids, without naturalisation or colonies, the 

74 The Social Contract 

citizens increase and multiply most, is beyond question 
the best. The government under which a people wanes 
and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left for 
you to count, to measure, to compare. 1 




As the particular will acts constantly in opposition to 
the general will, the government continually exerts itself 
against the Sovereignty. The greater this exertion be 
comes, the more the constitution changes ; and, as there 
is in this case no other corporate will to create an equi- 

1 On the same principle it should be judged what centuries deserve the pre 
ference for human prosperity. Those in which letters and arts have flourished 
have been too much admired, because the hidden object of their culture has 
not been fathomed, and their fatal effects not taken into account. " Idque 
apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset." ["Fool? 
called humanity what was a part of slavery," Tacitus, Agricola, 31.^ 
Shall we never see in the maxims books lay down the vulgar interest that 
makes their writers speak ? No, whatever they may say, when, despite iti 
renown, a country is depopulated, it is not true that all is well, and it i< 
not enough that a poet should have an income of 100,000 francs to make 
his age the best of all. Less attention should be paid to the appare?it 
repose and tranquillity of the rulers than to the well-being of their nation. 1 
as wholes, and above all of the most numerous States. A hail-storm lay; 
several cantons waste, but it rarely makes a famine. Outbreaks and civi 
wars give rulers rude shocks, but they are not the real ills of peoples, whc 
may even get a respite, while there is a dispute as to who shall tyrannist 
over them. Their true prosperity and calamities come from their perma 
nent condition : it is when the whole remains crushed beneath the yoke, 
that decay sets in, and that the rulers destroy them at will, and "ubi soli 
tudinem faciunt, pacem appellant." [" Where they create solitude, the) 
call it peace," Tacitus, Agricola, 31.] When the bickerings of the grea 
disturbed the kingdom of France, and the Coadjutor of Paris took adagge: 
in his pocket to the Parliament, these things did not prevent the people o 
France from prospering and multiplying in dignity, ease and freedom 
Long ago Greece flourished in the midst of the most savage wars ; blooc 
ran in torrents, and yet the whole country was covered with inhabitants 
It appeared, says Macchiavelli, that in the midst of murder, proscriptioi 
and civil war, our republic only throve : the virtue, morality and inde 
pendence of the citizens did more to strengthen it than all their dissension 
had done to enfeeble it. A little disturbance gives the soul elasticity 
what makes the race truly prosperous is not so much peace as liberty. 

The Social Contract 75 

ibrium by resisting the will of the prince, sooner or later 
:he prince must inevitably suppress the Sovereign and 
>reak the social treaty. This is the unavoidable and 
nherent defect which, from the very birth of the body 
>olitic, tends ceaselessly to destroy it, as age and death 

d by destroying the human body. 

There are two general courses by which government 
legenerates : i. e. when it undergoes contraction, or when 
he State is dissolved. 

Government undergoes contraction when it passes from 
:he many to the few, that is, from democracy to aristo 
cracy, and from aristocracy to royalty. To do so is its 
latural propensity. 1 If it took the backward course from 

1 The slow formation and the progress of the Republic of Venice in its 
igoons are a notable instance of this sequence ; and it is most astonishing 
sat, after more than twelve hundred years existence, the Venetians seem 
o be still at the second stage, which they reached with the Serrar di Con- 
iglio in 1 198. As for the ancient Dukes who are brought up against them, 
C is proved, whatever the Squitiinio della libcrtb veneta may say of them, 
hrt they were in no sense Sovereigns. 

A case certain to be cited against my view is that of the Roman Republic, 
rhich, it will be said, followed exactly the opposite course, and passed from 
nonarchy to aristocracy and from aristocracy to democracy. I by no 
aeans take this view of it. 

What Romulus first set up was a mixed government, which soon deteri- 
rated into despotism. From special causes, the State died an untimely 
eath, as new-born children sometimes perish without reaching manhood, 
he expulsion of the Tarquins was the real period of the birth of the 
lepuhlic. But at first it took on no constant form, because, by not 
ibolishing the patriciate, it left half its work undone. For, by this means, 
tereditary aristocracy, the worst of all legitimate forms of administration, 
emained in conflict with democracy, and the form of the government, as 
rtacchiavelli has proved, was only fixed on the establishment of the triba- 
late : only then was there a true government and a veritable democracy. 
n fact, the people was then not only Sovereign, but also magistrate and 
udge ; the senate was only a subordinate tribunal, to temper and concen- 
rate the government, and the consuls themselves, though they were 
>atricians, first magistrates, and absolute generals in war, were in Rome 
tself no more than presidents of the people. 

From that point, the government followed its natural tendency, and 
nclined strongly to aristocracy. The patriciate, we may say, abolished 
tself, and the aristocracy was found no longer in the body of patricians as 
it Venice and Genoa, but in the body of the senate, which was composed 
>f patricians and plebeians, and even in the body of tribunes when they began 
o usurp an active function : for names do not affect facts, and, when the 
>eople has rulers who govern for it, whatever name they bear, the govern- 
nent is an aristocracy. 

The abuse of aristocracy led to the civil wars and the triumvirate. Sulla, 

7 6 

The Social Contract 

the few to the many, it could be said that it was relaxed 
by this inverse sequence is impossible. 

Indeed, governments never change their form excep 
when their energy is exhausted and leaves them too weal 
to keep what they have. If a government at once ex 
tended its sphere and relaxed its stringency, its fore 
would become absolutely nil, and it would persist stil 
less. It is therefore necessary to wind up the spring an< 
tighten the hold as it gives way : or else the State i 
sustains will come to grief. 

The dissolution of the State may come about in eithe 
of two ways. 

First, when the prince ceases to administer the Stat 

in accordance with the laws, and usurps the Sovereigi 

power. A remarkable change then occurs : not th 

, government, but the State, undergoes contraction ; I meai 

that the great State is dissolved, and another is formei 

X within it, composed solely of the members of the govern 

j- ment, which becomes for the rest of the people merel; 

master and tyrant. So that the moment the governmen 

usurps the Sovereignty, the social compact is broken 

and all private citizens recover by right their natura 

liberty, and are forced, but not bound, to obey. 

The same thing happens when the members of thi 
government severally usurp the power they should exercis* 
only as a body ; this is as great an infraction of the laws 
and results in even greater disorders. There are then 
so to speak, as many princes as there are magistrates 
and the State, no less divided than the government, eithe 
perishes or changes its form. 

When the State is dissolved, the abuse of government 
whatever it is, bears the common name of anarchy. T< 
distinguish, democracy degenerates into ochlocracy, am 
aristocracy into oligarchy; and I would add that royalt; 
degenerates into tyranny; but this last word is ambiguou 
and needs explanation. 

In vulgar usage, a tyrant is a king who governs violentl 
and without regard for justice and law. In the exac 
sense, a tyrant is an individual who arrogates to himsel 

Julius Caesar and Augustus became in fact real monarchs ; and finally 
under the despotism of Tiberius, the State was dissolved. Roman histor 
then confirms, instead of invalidating, the principle I have laid down. 

The Social Contract 77 

ie royal authority without having a right to it. This is 
ow the Greeks understood the word "tyrant": they 
pplied it indifferently to good and bad princes whose 
uthority was not legitimate. 1 Tyrant and usurper are 
lus perfectly synonymous terms. 

In order that I may give different things different 
ames, I call him who usurps the royal authority a tyrant, 
nd him who usurps the sovereign power a despot. The 
/rant is he who thrusts himself in contrary to the laws to 
overn in accordance with the laws ; the despot is he who 

ts himself above the laws themselves. Thus the tyrant 
annot be a despot, but the despot is always a tyrant. 



SUCH is the natural and inevitable tendency of the best 
anstituted governments. If Sparta and Rome perished, 
hat State can hope to endure for ever? If we would set 
p a long-lived form of government, let us not even 
ream of making it eternal. If we are to succeed, we 
mst not attempt the impossible, or flatter ourselves that 
e are endowing the work of man with a stability of which 
aman conditions do not permit. 

The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to 
ie as soon as it is born, and carries in itself the causes 
f its destruction. But both may have a constitution that 

more or less robust and suited to preserve them a longer 
r a shorter time. The constitution of man is the work 
f nature ; that of the State the work of art. It is not in 

1 Omnes eninn et habentur et dicuntur tyranni, qui potestate utuntur 
Tpetua in ea civitatc quse libertate usa est (Cornelius Nepos, Life of 
tttiades). [For all those are called and considered tyrants, who hold per- 
itual power in a State that has known liberty.] It is true that Aristotle 
Hcomachean Ethics, Book viii, chapter x) distinguishes the tyrant 
>m the king by the fact that the former governs in his own interest, and 
e latter only for the good of his subjects ; but not only did all Greek 
thors in general use the word tyrant in a different sense, as appears most 
:aily in Xenophon s Hiero, but also it would follow from Aristotle s dis- 
iction that, from the very beginning of the world, there has not yet been 
single king. 

78 The Social Contract 

men s power to prolong their own lives; but it is for therr 
to prolong as much as possible the life of the State, b 
giving it the best possible constitution. The best const 
tuted State will have an end ; but it will end later tha 
any other, unless some unforeseen accident brings abou 
its untimely destruction. 

The life-principle of the body politic lies in the sovereig 
authority. The legislative power is the heart of the State 
the executive power is its brain, which causes the move 
ment of all the parts. The brain may become paralyse 
and the individual still live. A man may remain a 
imbecile and live ; but as soon as the heart ceases 
perform its functions, the animal is dead. 

The State subsists by means not of the laws, but of th 
legislative power. Yesterday s law is not binding to-day 
but silence is taken for tacit consent, and the Sovereig 
is held to confirm incessantly the laws it does not abrogat 
as it might. All that it has once declared itself to will 
wills always, unless it revokes its declaration. 

Why then is so much respect paid to old laws? Fo 
this very reason. We must believe that nothing but th 
excellence of old acts of will can have preserved them s 
long : if the Sovereign had not recognised them a 
throughout salutary, it would have revoked them 
thousand times. This is why, so far from growing weal 
the laws continually gain new strength in any well const 
tuted State ; the precedent of antiquity makes them dai] 
more venerable : while wherever the laws grow weak z 
they become old, this proves that there is no longer 
legislative power, and that the State is dead. 



THE Sovereign, having no force other than the Icgi 
lative power, acts only by means of the laws ; and tl IT 
laws being solely the authentic acts of the general wi fiiec 
the Sovereign cannot act save when the people to a 
assembled. The people in assembly, I shall be told, pen,. 

The Social Contract 79 

mere chimera. It is so to-day, but two thousand years 
ago it was not so. Has man s nature changed? 

The bounds of possibility, in moral matters, are less 
arrow than we imagine : it is our weaknesses, our vices 
nd our prejudices that confine them. Base souls have no 
elief in great men; vile slaves smile in mockery at the 
ame of liberty. 

Let us judge of what can be done by what has been 
one. I shall say nothing of the Republics of ancient 
reece; but the Roman Republic was, to my mind, a great 
tate, and the town of Rome a great town. The last 
ensus showed that there were in Rome four hundred 
lousand citizens capable of bearing arms, and the last 
omputation of the population of the Empire showed over 
our million citizens, excluding subjects, foreigners, 
iromen, children and slaves. 

What difficulties might not be supposed to stand in 
ic way of the frequent assemblage of the vast population 
f this capital and its neighbourhood. Yet few weeks 
assed without the Roman people being in assembly, and 
ven being so several times. It exercised not only the 
ights of Sovereignty, but also a part of those of govern- 
nent. It dealt with certain matters, and judged certain 
ases, and this whole people was found in the public 
neeting-place hardly less often as magistrates than as 

If we went back to the earliest history of nations, we 
hould find that most ancient governments, even those of 
nonarchical form, such as the Macedonian and the 
rankish, had similar councils. In any case, the one incon- 
estable fact I have given is an answer to all difficulties ; 
t is good logic to reason from the actual to the possible. 

THE SAME (continued) 

IT is not enough for the assembled people to have once 
ixed the constitution of the State by giving its sanction 
o a body of law ; it is not enough for it to have set up a 
>erpetual government, or provided once for all for the 

8o The Social Contract 

election of magistrates. Besides the extraordinary assem 
blies unforeseen circumstances may demand, there must be 
fixed periodical assemblies which cannot be abrogated or 
prorogued, so that on the proper day the people is legiti 
mately called together by law, without need of any formal 

But, apart from these assemblies authorised by their 
date alone, every assembly of the people not summoned 
by the magistrates appointed for that purpose, and in 
accordance with the prescribed forms, should be regarded 
as unlawful, and all its acts as null and void, because the 
command to assemble should itself proceed from the law. 

The greater or less frequency with which lawful assem 
blies should occur depends on so many considerations that 
no exact rules about them can be given. It can only be 
said generally that the stronger the government the more 
often should the Sovereign show itself. 

This, I shall be told, may do for a single town ; but 
what is to be done when the State includes several? Is 
the sovereign authority to be divided ? Or is it to be 
concentrated in a single town to which all the rest are 
made subject? 

Neither the one nor the other, I reply. First, the sove 
reign authority is one and simple, and cannot be divided 
without being destroyed. In the second place, one town 
cannot, any more than one nation, legitimately be made 
subject to another, because the essence of the body politic 
lies in the reconciliation of obedience and liberty, and the 
words subject and Sovereign are identical correlatives the 
idea of which meets in the single word "citizen." 

I answer further that the union of several towns in a 
single city is always bad, and that, if we wish to make 
such a union, we should not expect to avoid its natural 
disadvantages. It is useless to bring up abuses that 
belong to great States against one who desires to see only 
small ones ; but how can small States be given the strength 
to resist great ones, as formerly the Greek towns resisted 
the Great King, and more recently Holland and Switzer 
land have resisted the House of Austria? 

Nevertheless, if the State cannot be reduced to the right 
limits, there remains still one resource ; this is, to allow 
no capital, to make the seat of government move from 

The Social Contract 81 

town to town, and to assemble by turn in each the Pro 
vincial Estates of the country. 

People the territory evenly, extend everywhere the same 
rights, bear to every place in it abundance and life : by 
these means will the State become at once as strong and 
as well governed as possible. Remember that the walls 
of towns are built of the ruins of the houses of the country 
side. For every palace I see raised in the capital, my 
mind s eye sees a whole country made desolate. 


THE SAME (continued) 

THE moment the people is legitimately assembled as a 
sovereign body, the jurisdiction of the government wholly 
lapses, the executive power is suspended, and the person 
of the meanest citizen is as sacred and inviolable as that 
of the first magistrate ; for in the presence of the person 
represented, representatives no longer exist. Most of the 
tumults that arose in the cornitia at Rome were due to 
ignorance or neglect of this rule. The consuls were in 
them merely the presidents of the people ; the tribunes 
were mere speakers ; l the senate was nothing at all. 

These intervals of suspension, during which the prince 
recognises or ought to recognise an actual superior, have 
always been viewed by him with alarm ; and these assem 
blies of the people, which are the aegis of the body politic 
and the curb on the government, have at all times been 
the horror of rulers : who therefore never spare pains, 
objections, difficulties, and promises, to stop the citizens 
from having them. When the citizens are greedy, 
cowardly, and pusillanimous, and love ease more than 
liberty, they do not long hold out against the redoubled 
efforts of the government ; and thus, as the resisting force 
incessantly grows, the sovereign authority ends by dis 
appearing, and most cities fall and perish before their 

1 In nearly the same sense as this word has in the English Parliament. 
The similarity of these functions would have brought the consuls and the 
tribunes into conflict, even had all jurisdiction been suspended. 

82 The Social Contract 

But between the sovereign authority and arbitrary govern 
ment there sometimes intervenes a mean power of which 
something must be said. 



As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business 
of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their 
money than with their persons, the State is not far from its 
fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay 
troops and stay at home : when it is necessary to meet in 
council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason 
of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to 
enslave their country and representatives to sell it. 

It is through the hustle of commerce and the arts, 
through the greedy self-interest of profit, and through 
softness and love of amenities that personal services are 
replaced by money payments. Men surrender a part of 
their profits in order to have time to increase them at 
leisure. Make gifts of money, and you will not be long 
without chains. The word finance is a slavish word, 
unknown in the city-state. In a country that is truly free, 
the citizens do everything with their own arms and nothing 
by means of money ; so far from paying to be exempted 
from their duties, they would even pay for the privilege 
of fulfilling them themselves. I am far from taking the 
common view : I hold enforced labour to be less opposed 
to liberty than taxes. 

The better the constitution of a State is, the more do 
public affairs encroach on private in the minds of the 
citizens. Private affairs are even of much less importance, 
because the aggregate of the common happiness furnishes 
a greater proportion of that of each individual, so that 
there is less for him to seek in particular cares. In a 
well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies : under 
a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them, 
because no one is interested in what happens there, because 
it is foreseen that the general will will not prevail, and lastly 

The Social Contract 83 

because domestic cares are all-absorbing. Good laws 
lead to the making- of better ones; bad ones bring about 
worse. As soon as any man says of the affairs of the 
State What does it matter to me? the State may be given 
up for lost. 

The lukewarmness of patriotism, the activity of private 
interest, the vastness of States, conquest and the abuse 
of government suggested the method of having deputies 
or representatives of the people in the national assemblies. 
These are what, in some countries, men have presumed 
to call the Third Estate. Thus the individual interest of 
two orders is put first and second; the public interest 
occupies only the third place. 

Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalien 
able, cannot be represented ; it lies essentially in the 
general will, and will does not admit of representation : it 
is either the same, or other; there is no intermediate 
possibility. The deputies of the people, therefore, are 
not and cannot be its representatives : they are merely its 
stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts. Every 
law the people has not ratified in person is null and void- 
is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards 
itself as free ; but it is grossly mistaken ; it is free only 
during the election of members of parliament. As soon 
as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. 
The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys 
shows indeed that it deserves to lose them. 

The idea of representation is modern ; it comes to us 
from feudal government, from that iniquitous and absurd 
system which degrades humanity and dishonours the name 
of man. In ancient republics and even in monarchies, 
the people never had representatives ; the word itself was 
unknown. It is very singular that in Rome, where the 
tribunes were so sacrosanct, it was never even imagined 
that they could usurp the functions of the people, and 
that in the midst of so great a multitude they never 
attempted to pass on their own authority a single ple- 
biscitum. We can, however, form an idea of the diffi 
culties caused sometimes by the people being so numerous, 
from what happened in the time of the Gracchi, when 
some of the citizens had to cast their votes from the roofs 
of buildings. 

8 4 

The Social Contract 

Where right and liberty are everything, disadvantages 
count for nothing. Among this wise people everything 
was given its just value, its lictors were allowed to do 
what its tribunes would never have dared to attempt ; for 
it had no fear that its lictors would try to represent it. 

To explain, however, in what way the tribunes did 
sometimes represent it, it is enough to conceive how the 
government represents the Sovereign.; Law being purely 
the declaration "of the i generaT win, Tt is clear that, in the 
exercise of the legislative power, the people cannot be 
represented ; but in that of the executive power, which is 
only the force that is applied to give the law effect, it both 
can and should be represented. We thus see that if we 
looked closely into the matter we should find that very 
few nations have any laws. However that may be, it is 
certain that the tribunes, possessing no executive power, 
could never represent the Roman people by right of the 
powers entrusted to them, but only by usurping those of 
the senate. 

In Greece, all that the people had to do, it did for itself ; 
it was constantly assembled in the public square. The 
Greeks lived in a mild climate ; they had no natural greed ; 
slaves did their work for them ; their great concern was 
with liberty. Lacking the same advantages, how can you 
preserve the same rights? Your severer climates add to 
your needs ; 1 for half the year your public squares are 
uninhabitable ; the flatness of your languages unfits them 
for being heard in the open air; you sacrifice more for 
profit than for liberty, and fear slavery less than poverty. 

What then? Is liberty maintained only by the help of 
slavery? It may be so. Extremes meet. Everything 
that is not in the course of nature has its disadvantages, 
civil society most of all. There are some unhappy cir 
cumstances in which we can only keep our liberty at 
others expense, and where the citizen can be perfectly free 
only when the slave is most a slave. Such was the case 
with Sparta. As for you, modern peoples, you have no 
slaves, but you are slaves yourselves ; you pay for their 


1 To adopt in cold countries the luxury and effeminacy ot the East is 
to desire to submit to its chains ; it is indeed to bow to them far more 
inevitably in our case than in theirs. 

The Social Contract 85 

liberty with your own. It is in vain that you boast of this 
preference ; I find in it more cowardice than humanity. 

I do not mean by all this that it is necessary to have 
slaves, or that the right of slavery is legitimate : I am 
merely giving the reasons why modern peoples, believing 
themselves to be free, have representatives, while ancient 
peoples had none. In any case, the moment a people 
allows itself to be represented, it is no longer free : it no 
longer exists. 

All things considered, I do not see that it is possible 
henceforth for the Sovereign to preserve among us the 
exercise of its rights, unless the city is very small. But if 
it is very small, it will be conquered? No. I will show 
later on how the external strength of a great people * may 
be combined with the convenient polity and good order of 
a small State. 



THE legislative power once well established, the next 
thing is to establish similarly the executive power ; for 
this latter, which operates only by particular acts, not 
being of the essence of the former, is naturally separate 
from it. Were it possible for the Sovereign, as such, to 
possess the executive power, right and fact would be so 
confounded that no one could tell what was law and what 
was not ; and the body politic, thus disfigured, would soon 
fall a prey to the violence it was instituted to prevent. 

As the citizens, by the social contract, are all equal, all 
can prescribe what all should do, but no one has a right to 
demand that another shall do what he does not do himself. 
It is strictly this right, which is indispensable for giving 
the body politic life and movement, that the Sovereign, 
in instituting the government, confers upon the prince. 

1 I had intended to do this in the sequel to this work, when in dealing 
with external relations I came to the subject of confederations. The subject 
is quite new, and its principles have still to be laid down. 

86 The Social Contract 

It has been held that this act of establishment was a 
contract between the people and the rulers it sets over 
itself, a contract in which conditions were laid down 
between the two parties binding the one to command and 
the other to obey. It will be admitted, I am sure, that this 
is an odd kind of contract to enter into. But let us see 
if this view can be upheld. 

First, the supreme authority can no more be modified 
than it can be alienated ; to limit it is to destroy it. It is 
absurd and contradictory for the Sovereign to set a 
superior over itself ; to bind itself to obey a master would 
be to return to absolute liberty. 

Moreover, it is clear that this contract between the 
people and such and such persons would be a particular 
act ; and from this it follows that it can be neither a law 
nor an act of Sovereignty, and that consequently it would 
be illegitimate. 

It is plain too that the contracting parties in relation to 
each other would be under the law of nature alone and 
wholly without guarantees of their mutual undertakings, 
a position wholly at variance with the civil state. He who 
has force at his command being always in a position to 
control execution, it would come to the same thing if the 
name "contract" were given to the act of one man who 
said to another ; " I give you all my goods, on condition 
that you give me back as much of them as you please." 

There is only one contract in the State, and that is the 
act of association, which in itself excludes the existence of 
a second. It is impossible to conceive of any public 
contract that would not be a violation of the first. 



UNDER what general idea then should the act by which 
government is instituted be conceived as falling? I will 
begin by stating that the act is complex, as being composed 
of two others the establishment of the law and its 

By the former, the Sovereign decrees that there shall 

The Social Contract 87 

be a governing body established in this or that form ; this 
act is clearly a law. 

By the latter, the people nominates the rulers who are 
to be entrusted with the government that has been 
established. This nomination, being a particular act, is 
dearly not a second law, but merely a consequence of the_ 
first and a function of government. 

The difficulty is to understand how there can be a 
governmental act before government exists, and how the 
people, which is only Sovereign or subject, can, under 
certain circumstances, become a prince or magistrate. 

It is at this point that there is revealed one of the 
astonishing properties of the body politic, by means of 
which it reconciles apparently contradictory operations ; 
for this is accomplished by a sudden conversion of 
Sovereignty into democracy, so that, without sensible 
change, and merely by virtue of a new relation of all to all, 
the citizens become magistrates and pass from general to 
particular acts, from legislation to the execution of the 

This changed relation is no speculative subtlety without 
instances in practice : it happens every day in the English 
Parliament, where, on certain occasions, the Lower House 
resolves itself into Grand Committee, for the better 
discussion of affairs, and thus, from being at one moment 
a sovereign court, becomes at the next a mere commission ; 
so that subsequently it reports to itself, as House of 
Commons, the result of its proceedings in Grand Com 
mittee, and debates over again under one name what it 
has already settled under another. 

It is, indeed, the peculiar advantage of democratic 
government that it can be established in actuality by a 
simple act of the general will. Subsequently, this 
provisional government remains in power, if this form is 
adopted, or else establishes in the name of the Sovereign 
the government that is prescribed by law; and thus the 
whole proceeding is regular. It is impossible to set up 
government in any other manner legitimately and in 
accordance with the principles so far laid down. 

88 The Social Contract 



WHAT we have just said confirms Chapter XVI, and 
makes it clear that the institution of government is not 
a contract, but a law; that the depositaries of the executive 
power are not the people s masters, but its officers; that 
it can set them up and pull them down when it likes; that 
for them there is no question of contract, but of obedience ; 
and that in taking charge of the functions the State 
imposes on them they are doing no more than fulfilling 
their duty as citizens, without having the remotest right 
to argue about the conditions. 

When therefore the people sets up an hereditary 
government, whether it be monarchical and confined to one 
family, or aristocratic and confined to a class, what it enters 
into is not an undertaking ; the administration is given 
a provisional form, until the people chooses to order it 

It is true that such changes are always dangerous, and 
that the established government should never be touched 
except when it comes to be incompatible with the public 
good; but the circumspection this involves is a maxim 
of policy and not a rule of right, and the State is no more 
bound to leave civil authority in the hands of its rulers 
than military authority in the hands of its generals. 

It is also true that it is impossible to be too careful to 
observe, in such cases, all the formalities necessary to 
distinguish a regular and legitimate act from a seditious 
tumult, and the will of a whole people from the clamour of a 
faction. Here above all no further concession should be 
made to the untoward possibility than cannot, in the 
strictest logic, be refused it. From this obligation the 
prince derives a great advantage in preserving his power 
despite the people, without it being possible to say he 
has usurped it; for, -seeming to avail himself only of his 
rights, he finds it very easy to extend them, and to prevent, 
under the pretext of keeping the peace, assemblies that are 
destined to the re-establishment of order : with the result 
that he takes advantage of a silence he does not allow to 

The Social Contract 89 

>e broken, or of irregularities he causes to be committed, 
to assume that he has the support of those whom fear 
jrevents from speaking, and to punish those who dare to 
speak. Thus it was that the decemvirs, first elected for 
one year and then kept on in office for a second, tried to 
perpetuate their power by forbidding the comitia to 
assemble ; and by this easy method every government in 
he world, once clothed with the public power, sooner or 
ater usurps the sovereign authority. 

The periodical assemblies of which I hax e already spoken 
are designed to prevent or postpone this calamity, above 
all when they need no formal summoning ; for in that case, 
he prince cannot stop them without openly declaring him- 
ielf a law-breaker and an enemy of the State. 

The opening of these assemblies, whose sole object is 
he maintenance of the social treaty, should always take 
he form of putting two propositions that may not be 
suppressed, which should be voted on separately. 

The first is: "Does it please the Sovereign to preserve 
the present form of government? " 

The second is: "Does it please the people to leave its 
administration in the hands of those who are actually in 
charge of it? " 

I am here assuming what I think I have shown ; that 

here is in the State no fundamental law that cannot be 

revoked, not excluding the social compact itself; for if all 

the citizens assembled of one accord to break the compact, 

t is impossible to doubt that it would be very legitimately 

>roken. Grotius even thinks that each man can renounce 

lis membership of his own Stnte, and recover his natural 

iberty and his goods on leaving the country. 1 It would 

36 indeed absurd if all the citizens in assembly could not 

do what each can do by himself. 

1 Provided, of course, he does not leave to escape his obligations and 
avoid having to serve his country in the hour of need. Flight in such a 
case would be criminal and punishable, and would be, not withdrawal, but 

90 The Social Contract 




As long as several men in assembly regard themselves 
as a single body, they have only a single will which is 
concerned with their common preservation and general 
well-being. In this case, all the springs of the State are 
vigorous and simple and its rules clear and luminous; 
there are no embroilments or conflicts of interests ; the 
common good is everywhere clearly apparent, and only 
good sense is needed to perceive it. Peace, unity and 
equality are the enemies of political subtleties. Men who 
are upright and simple are difficult to deceive because of 
their simplicity ; lures and ingenious pretexts fail to impose 
upon them, and they are not even subtle enough to be 
dupes. When, among the happiest people in the world, 
bands of peasants are seen regulating affairs of State 
/under an oak, and always acting wisely, can we help 
\ scorning the ingenious methods of other nations, which 
/ make themselves illustrious and wretched with so much 
j art. and mystery? 
_J A State so governed needs very few laws ; and, as il 
I becomes necessary to issue new ones, the necessity 
I universally seen. The first man to propose them merel) 
says what all have already felt, and there is no question o; 
factions or intrigues or eloquence in order to secure th( 
passage into law of what every one has already decided t( 
do, as soon as he is sure that the rest will act with him. 
Theorists are led into error because, seeing only State: 
that have been from the beginning wrongly constituted 
they are struck by the impossibility of applying such 
policy to them. They make great game of all th< 
absurdities a clever rascal or an insinuating speaker migh 
get the people of Paris or London to believe. They do no 
know that Cromwell would have been put to " the bells 
by the people of Berne, and the Due de Beaufort on th 
treadmill by the Genevese. 

The Social Contract 91 

But when the social bond begins to be relaxed and the 
State to grow weak, when particular interests begin to 
make themselves felt and the smaller societies to exercise 
an influence over the larger, the common interest changes 
and finds opponents : opinion is no longer unanimous ; 
he general will ceases to be the will of all; contradictory 
views and debates arise ; and the best advice is not taken 
without question. 

Finally, when the Stale, on the eve of ruin, maintains 
only a vain, illusory and formal existence, when in every 
icart the social bond is broken, and the meanest interest 
Brazenly lays hold of the sacred name of "public good," 
he general will becomes mute : all men, guided by secret 
notives, no more give their views as citizens than if the 
State had never been ; and iniquitous decrees directed 
solely to private interest get passed under the name of 

Does it follow from this that the general will is 
sxterminated or corrupted ? Not at all : it is always 
:onstant, unalterable and pure; but it is subordinated to 
ither wills which encroach upon its sphere. Each man, in 
detaching his interest from the common interest, sees 
Nearly that he cannot entirely separate them ; but his share 
n the public mishaps seems to him negligible beside the 
xclusive good he aims at making his own. Apart from 
his particular good, he wills the general good in his own 
nterest, as strongly as any one else. Even in selling his 
r ote for money, he does not extinguish in himself the 
eneral will, but only eludes it. The fault he commits is 
hat of changing the state of the question, and answering 
omething different from what he is asked. Instead of 
aying, by his vote, " It is to the advantage of the State," 
ic says, " It is of advantage to this or that man or party 
hat this or that view should prevail." Thus the law of 
jublic order in assemblies is not so much to maintain in 
hem the general will as to secure that the question be 
Iways put to it, and the answer always given by it. 

I could here set down many reflections on the simple 
ight of voting in every act of Sovereignty a right 
winch no-one can take from the citizens and also on the 
ight of stating views, making proposals, dividing and 
liscussing, which the government is always most careful 

92 The Social Contract 

to leave solely to its members ; but this important subject 
would need a treatise to itself, and it is impossible to sav 
everything in a single work. 



IT may be seen, from the last chapter, that the way ir 
which general business is managed may give a clear 
enough indication of the actual state of morals and th< 
health of thejjody politic. j The more concert reigns in th< 

"assemblies, that is, the nearer opinion approaches unani 
mity, the greater is the dominance of the general will 

jOn the other hand, long debates, dissensions and tumul 
proclaim the ascendancy of particular interests and th 

decline of the State. 

This seems less clear when two or more orders entei 
into the constitution, as patricians and plebeians did ai 
Rome ; for quarrels between these two orders of tei 
disturbed the comitia, even in the best days of th< 
Republic. But the exception is rather apparent than real 
for then, through the defect that is inherent in the bod} 
politic, there were, so to speak, two States in one, an< 
what is not true of the two together is true of eithe: 
separately. Indeed, even in the most stormy times, th< 
plebiscita of the people, when the Senate did not interfer* 
with them, always went through quietly and by larg< 
majorities. The.-. citizens having but one interest, th< 
people had but a single . will. 

At the other extremity of the circle, unanimity recurs 
this is the case when the citizens, having fallen int< 
servitude, have lost both liberty and will. Fear ant 
flattery then change votes into acclamation; deliberatioi 
ceases, and only worship or malediction is left. Sucl 
was the vile manner in which the senate expressed it 
views under the Emperors. It did so sometimes witl 
absurd precautions. Tacitus observes that, under Otho 
the senators, while they heaped curses on Vitellius 
contrived at the same time to make a deafening noise, ii 

The Social Contract 93 

order that, should he ever become their master, he might 
not know what each of them had said. 

On these various considerations depend the rules by 
which the methods of counting votes and comparing 
opinions should be regulated, according as the general 
vill is more or less easy to discover, and the State more or 
ess in its decline. 

~ There is but one law which, from its nature, needs] 
unanimous consent. This is the social compact ; for civi 
association is the most voluntary of all acts. Every ma 

ng born free and his own master, no-one, under an 
pretext whatsoever, can make any man subject without 
iis consent. To decide that the son of a slave is born a 
lave is to decide that he is not born a man. 

If then there are opponents when the social compact is 
nade, their opposition does not invalidate the contract, 
3Ut merely prevents them from being included in it. They 
,re foreigners among citizens. When the State is 
nstituted, residence constitutes consent; to dwell within 
ts territory is to submit to the Sovereign. 1 

Apart from this primitive contract, the vote of the 
majority always binds all the rest. This follows from the 
ontract itself. But it is asked how a man can be both 
ree and forced to conform to wills that are not his own. 
iow are the opponents at once free and subject to laws 
hey have not agreed to? 

1 retort that the question is wrongly put. The citizen 
ives his consent to all the laws, including those which are 
oassed in spite of his opposition, and even those which 
lunish him when he dares to break any of them. The 
:onstant will of all the members of the State is the 
general will; by virtue of it they are citizens and free. 2 
When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what 
he people is asked is not exactly whether it approves or 

This should of course be understood as applying to a free State ; for 
Isewhere family, goods, lack of a refuge, necessity, or violence may detain 

man in a country against his will ; and then his dwelling there no longer 
y itself implies his consent to the contract or to its violation. 

1 At Genoa, the word Liberty may be read over the front of the prisons 
nd on the chains of the galley-slaves. This application of the device is 
;ood and just. It is indeed only malefactors of all estates who prevent the 
itizen from being free. In the country in which all such men were in the 
alleys, the most perfect liberty would be enjoyed. 

94 The Social Contract 

rejects the proposal, but whether it is in conformity with 

the general will, which is their will. Each man, in giving 

his vote, states his opinion on that point ; and the genera 

will is found by counting votes. When therefore tht: 

opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this prove*. 

neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and thar 

what I thought to be the general will was not so. If my 

particular opinion had carried the day I should havt: 

achieved the opposite of what was my will ; and it is w 

that case that I should not have been free. 

finis presupposes, indeed, that all the qualities of th 

[general will still reside in the majority : when they ceas 

I to do so, whatever side a man may take, liberty is nt- 

(longer possible. 

In my earlier demonstration of how particular wills ar< 
substituted for the general will in public deliberation, 
have adequately pointed out the practicable methods o 
avoiding this abuse ; and I shall have more to say o 
them later on. I have also given the principles fo 
determining the proportional number of votes for declaring 
that will. A difference of one vote destroys equality ; : 
single opponent destroys unanimity ; but between equalit; 
and unanimity, there are several grades of unequa 
division, at each of which this proportion may be fixec 
in accordance with the condition and the needs of th 
body politic. 

There are two general rules that may serve to regulat 
this relation. First, the more grave and important th 
questions discussed, the nearer should the opinion tha 
is to prevail approach unanimity. Secondly, the mor 
ihe matter in hand calls for speed, the smaller the pre 
-scribed difference in the numbers of votes may be allowe* 
to become : where an instant decision has to be reached 
a majority of one vote should be enough. The first o 
these two rules seems more in harmony with the law* 
and the second with practical affairs. In any case, it i 
the combination of them that gives the best proportion 
for determining the majority necessary. 

The Social Contract 95 



IN the elections of the prince and the magistrates,] 
which are, as I have said, complex acts, there are twoJ 
possible methods of procedure, choice and lot. (~TJoth 
nave been employed in various republics, and a nighly 
complicated mixture of the two still survives in the election 
af the Doge at Venice. 

"Election by lot," says Montesquieu, "is democratic 
in nature." I agree that it is so; but in what sense? 
"The lot," he goes on, "is a way of making choice that 
is unfair to nobody ; it leaves each citizen a reasonable hope 
)f serving his country." These are not reasons. 

If we bear in mind that the election of rulers is a 
[unction of government, and not of Sovereignty, we shall 
see why the lot is the method more natural to democracy, 
in which the administration is better in proportion as the 
number of its acts is small. 

In every real democracy, magistracy is not an advan- 
:age, but a burdensome charge which cannot justly be 
mposed on one individual rather than another. The law 
done can lay the charge on him on whom the lot falls. 
For, the conditions being then the same for all, and the 
:hoice not depending on any human will, there is no 
jarticular application to alter the universality of the law. 

In an aristocracy, the prince chooses the prince, the 
government is preserved by itself, and voting is rightly 

The instance of the election of the Doge of Venice 
xmfirms, instead of destroying, this distinction ; the mixed 
"orm suits a mixed government. For it is an error to take 
:he government of Venice for a real aristocracy. If the 
jeopie has no share in the government, the nobility is 
tself the people. A host of poor Barnabotes never gets 
icar any magistracy, and its nobility consists merely in 
lie empty title of Excellency, and in the right to sit in 
:he Great Council. As this Great Council is as numerous 
is our General Council at Geneva, its illustrious members 
lave no more privileges than our plain citizens. It is 

96 The Social Contract 

indisputable that, apart from the extreme disparity 
between the two republics, the bourgeoisie of Geneva is 
exactly equivalent to the patriciate of Venice ; our natives 
and inhabitants correspond to the townsmen and the 
people of Venice ; our peasants correspond to the subjects 
on the mainland ; and, however that republic be regarded, 
if its size be left out of account, its government is no more 
aristocratic than our own. The whole difference is that, 
having no life-ruler, we do not, like Venice, need to use 
the lot. 

Election by lot would have few disadvantages in a real 
democracy, in which, as equality would everywhere exist 
in morals and talents as well as in principles and fortunes, 
it would-become almost a matter of indifference who was 
chosen. ( But^ have already said that a real democracy is 
only an ideal.l . 

jWhen choice and lot are combined,] positions that 
rerjuire special talents, such as military posts, should be 
filled by the former ; the latter does for cases, such as 
judicial offices, in which good sense, justice, and integrity 
are enough, because in a State that is well constituted. 
these qualities are common to all the citizens. 

Neither lot nor vote has any place in monarchical 
government. The monarch being by right sole prince and 
only magistrate, the choice of his lieutenants belongs tc 
none but him. When the Abbe" de Saint-Pierre proposed 
that the Councils of the King of France should be 
multiplied, and their members elected by ballot, he did 
not see that he was proposing to change the form ol 

I should now speak of the methods of giving and 
counting opinions in the assembly of the people; but 
perhaps an account of this aspect of the Roman constitu 
tion will more forcibly illustrate all the rules I could lay 
down. It is worth the while of a judicious reader to 
follow in some detail the working of public and private 
affairs in a Council consisting of two hundred thousand 

The Social Contract 97 



WE are without well-certified records of the first period 
of Rome s existence; it even appears very probable that 
most of the stories told about it are fables; indeed, gener 
ally speaking-, the most instructive part of the history of 
peoples, that which deals with their foundation, is what 
we have least of. Experience teaches us every day what 
causes lead to the revolutions of empires ; but, as no new 
peoples are now formed, we have almost nothing beyond 
conjecture to go upon in explaining how they were created. 

The customs we find established show at least that 
these customs had an origin. The traditions that go 
back to those origins, that have the greatest authorities 
behind them, and that are confirmed by the strongest 
proofs, should pass for the most certain. These are the rules 
I have tried to follow in inquiring how the freest and most 
powerful people on earth exercised its supreme power. 

After the foundation of Rome, the new-born republic, 
that is, the army of its founder, composed of Albans, 
Sabines and foreigners, was divided into three classes, 
which, from this division, took the name of tribes. Each 
of these tribes was subdivided into ten curies, and each 
curia into decurue, headed by leaders called curiones and 

Besides this, out of each tribe was taken a body of one 
hundred Equites or Knights, called a century, which shows 
that these divisions, being unnecessary in a town, were 
at first merely military. But an instinct for greatness 
seems to have led the little township of Rome to provide 
itself in advance with a political system suitable for the 
capital of the world. 

Out of this original division an awkward situation soon 
arose. The tribes of the Albans (Ramnenses) and the 
Sabines (Tatienses) remained always in the same condition, 
while that of the foreigners (Luceres) continually grew 
as more and more foreigners came to live at Rome, so 
that it soon surpassed the others in strength. Servius 
remedied this dangerous fault by changing the principle 

K 66o 


The Social Contract 

of cleavage, and substituting- for the racial division, which 
he abolished, a new one based on the quarter of the town 
inhabited by each tribe. Instead of three tribes he created 
four, each occupying and named after one of the hills of 
Rome. Thus, while redressing the inequality of the 
moment, he also provided for the future ; and in order that 
the division might be one of persons as well as localities, 
he forbade the inhabitants of one quarter to migrate to 
another, and so prevented the mingling of the races. 

He also doubled the three old centuries of Knights and 
added twelve more, still keeping the old names, and by 
this simple and prudent method, succeeded in making 
a distinction between the body of Knights and the people, 
without a murmur from the latter. 

To the four urban tribes Servius added fifteen others 
called rural tribes, because they consisted of those who 
lived in the country, divided into fifteen cantons. Subse 
quently, fifteen more were created, and the Roman people 
finally found itself divided into thirty-five tribes, as it 
remained down to the end of the Republic. 

The distinction between urban and rural tribes had one 
effect which is worth mention, both because it is without 
parallel elsewhere, and because to it Rome owed the pre 
servation of her morality and the enlargement of her 
empire. We should have expected that the urban tribes 
would soon monopolise power and honours, and lose no 
time in bringing the rural tribes into disrepute ; but what 
happened was exactly the reverse. The taste of the early 
Romans for country life is well known. This taste they 
owed to their wise founder, who made rural and military 
labours go along with liberty, and, so to speak, relegated 
to the town arts, crafts, intrigue, fortune and slavery. 

Since therefore all Rome s most illustrious citizens lived 
in the fields and tilled the earth, men grew used to seeking 
there alone the mainstays of the republic. This condition, 
being that of the best patricians, was honoured by all 
men ; the simple and laborious life of the villager was 
preferred to the slothful and idle life of the bourgeoisie of 
Rome ; and he who, in the town, would have been but a 
wretched proletarian, became, as a labourer in the fields, 
a respected citizen. Not without reason, says Varro, did 
our great-souled ancestors establish in the Tillage the 

The Social Contract 99 

nursery of the sturdy and valiant men who defended them 
in time of war and provided for their sustenance in time 
of peace. Pliny states positively that the country tribes 
were honoured because of the men of whom they were 
composed ; while cowards men wished to dishonour were 
transferred, as a public disgrace, to the town tribes. The 
Sabine Appius Claudius, when he had come to settle in 
Rome, was loaded with honours and enrolled in a rural 
tribe, which subsequently took his family name. Lastly, 
freedmen always entered the urban, and never the rural, 
tribes : nor is there a single example, throughout the 
Republic, of a freedman, though he had become a citizen, 
reaching any magistracy. 

This was an excellent rule; but it was carried so far 
that in the end it led to a change and certainly to an 
abuse in the political system. 

First the censors, after having for a long time claimed 
the right of transferring citizens arbitrarily from one tribe 
to another, allowed most persons to enrol themselves in 
whatever tribe they pleased. This permission certainly did 
no good, and further robbed the censorship of one of its 
greatest resources. Moreover, as the great and powerful 
all got themselves enrolled in the country tribes, while the 
freedmen who had become citizens remained with the 
populace in the town tribes, both soon ceased to have 
any local or territorial meaning, and all were so confused 
that the members of one could not be told from those of 
another except by the registers ; so that the idea of the 
word tribe became personal instead of real, or rather 
came to be little more than a chimera. 

It happened in addition that the town tribes, being 
more on the spot, were often the stronger in the comitia 
and sold the State to those who stooped to buy the votes 
of the rabble composing them. 

As the founder had set up ten curia in each tribe, the 
whole Roman people, which was then contained within 
the walls, consisted of thirty curice, each with its temples, 
its gods, its officers, its priests and its festivals, which 
were called compitalia and corresponded to the paganalia, 
held in later times by the rural tribes. 

When Servius made his new division, as the thirty 
curice could not be shared equally between his four tribes, 

ioo The Social Contract 

and as he was unwilling to interfere with them, they 
became a further division of the inhabitants of Rome, 
quite independent of the tribes : but in the case of the 
rural tribes and their members there was no question of 
curice, as the tribes had then become a purely civil institu 
tion, and, a new system of levying troops having been 
introduced, the military divisions of Romulus were super 
fluous. Thus, although every citizen was enrolled in a 
tribe, there were very many who were not members of a 

Servius made yet a third division, quite distinct from 
the two we have mentioned, which became, in its effects, 
the most important of all. He distributed the whole 
Roman people into six classes, distinguished neither by 
place nor by person, but by wealth ; the first classes 
included the rich, the last the poor, and those between 
persons of moderate means. These six classes were sub 
divided into one hundred and ninety-three other bodies, 
called centuries, which were so divided that the first class 
alone comprised more than half of them, while the last 
comprised only one. Thus the class that had the smallest 
number of members had the largest number of centuries, 
and the whole of the last class only counted as a single 
subdivision, although it alone included more than half the 
inhabitants of Rome. 

In order that the people might have the less insight into 
the results of this arrangement, Servius tried to give it a 
military tone : in the second class he inserted two centuries 
of armourers, and in the fourth two of makers of instru 
ments of war : in each class, except the last, he distin 
guished young and old, that is, those who were under an 
obligation to bear arms and those whose age gave them 
legal exemption. It was this distinction, rather than that 
of wealth, which required frequent repetition of the census 
or counting. Lastly, he ordered that the assembly should 
be held in the Campus Martius, and that all who were of 
age to serve should come there armed. 

The reason for his not making in the last class also the 
division of young and old was that the populace, of whom 
it was composed, was not given the right to bear arms 
for its country : a man had to possess a hearth to 
acquire the right to defend it, and of all the troops of 

The Social Contract 101 

beggars who to-day lend lustre to the armies of king s, 
there is perhaps not one who would not have been driven 
with scorn out of a Roman cohort, at a time when soldiers 
were the defenders of liberty. 

In this last class, however, proletarians were distin 
guished from capite censi. The former, not quite reduced 
to nothing, at least gave the State citizens, and some 
times, when the need was pressing, even soldiers. Those 
who had nothing at all, and could be numbered only by 
counting heads, were regarded as of absolutely no account, 
and Marius was the first who stooped to enrol them. 

Without deciding now whether this third arrangement 
was good or bad in itself, I think I may assert that it could 
have been made practicable only by the simple morals, the 
disinterestedness, the liking for agriculture and the scorn 
for commerce and for love of gain which characterised the 
early Romans. Where is the modern people among whom 
consuming greed, unrest, intrigue, continual removals, 
and perpetual changes of fortune, could let such a system 
last for twenty years without turning the State upside 
down ? We must indeed observe that morality and the 
censorship, being stronger than this institution, corrected 
its defects at Rome, and that the rich man found himself 
degraded to the class of the poor for making too much 
display of his riches. 

From all this it is easy to understand why only five 
classes are almost always mentioned, though there were 
really six. The sixth, as it furnished neither soldiers to 
the army nor votes in the Campus Martius, 1 and was 
almost without function in the State, was seldom regarded 
as of any account. 

These were the various ways in which the Roman people 
was divided. Let us now see the effect on the assemblies. 
When lawfully summoned, these were called comitia: they 
were usually held in the public square at Rome or in the 
Campus Martius, and were distinguished as Comitia 
Curiata, Comitia Centuriata, and Comitia Tributa, accord 
ing to the form under which they were convoked. The 

1 I say " in the Campus Martius " because it was there that the comitia 
assembled by centuries ; in its two other forms the people assembled in the 
forum or elsewhere ; ant! then the capitt censi had as much influence and 
authority as the foremost citizens. 

102 The Social Contract 

Comitia Curiata were founded by Romulus ; the Centuriata 
by Servius; and the Tributa by the tribunes of the people. 
No law received its sanction and no magistrate was 
elected, save in the comitia ; and as every citizen was 
enrolled in a curia, a century, or a tribe, it follows that 
no citizen was excluded from the right of voting, and 
that the Roman people was truly sovereign both de jure 
and de facto. 

For the comitia to be lawfully assembled, and for their 
acts to have the force of law, three conditions were neces 
sary. First, the body or magistrate convoking them had 
to possess the necessary authority ; secondly, the assembly 
had to be held on a day allowed by law; and thirdly, the 
auguries had to be favourable. 

The reason for the first regulation needs no explanation ; 
the second is a matter of policy. Thus, the comitia might 
not be held on festivals or market-days, when the country 
folk, coming to Rome on business, had not time to spend 
the day in the public square. By means of the third, the 
senate held in check the proud and restive people, and 
meetly restrained the ardour of seditious tribunes, who, 
however, found more than one way of escaping this 

.7 Laws and the election of rulers were not the only 

^questions submitted to the judgment of the comitia : as 

the Roman people had taken on itself the most important 

functions of government, it may be said that the lot of 

Europe was regulated in its assemblies. The variety of 

their objects gave rise to the various forms these took, 

according to the matters on which they had to pronounce. 

In order to judge of these various forms, it is enough 
to compare them. Romulus, when he set up curice, had 
in view the checking of the senate by the people, and of 
the people by the senate, while maintaining his ascendancy 
over both alike. He therefore gave the people, by means 
of this assembly, all the authority of numbers to balance 
that of power and riches, which he left to the patricians. 
But, after the spirit of monarchy, he left all the same a 
greater advantage to the patricians in the influence of 
their clients on the majority of votes. This excellent 
institution of patron and client was a masterpiece of 
statesmanship and humanity without which the patriciate, 

The Social Contract 103 

being flagrantly in contradiction to the republican spirit, 
could not have survived. Rome alone has the honour of 
having given to the world this great example, which never 
led to any abuse, and yet has never been followed. 

As the assemblies by curies, persisted under the kings 
till the time of Servius, and the reign of the later Tarquin 
was not regarded as legitimate, royal laws were called 
generally leges curialce. 

Under the Republic, the curia, still confined to the four 
urban tribes, and including only the populace of Rome, 
suited neither the senate, which led the patricians, nor 
the tribunes, who, though plebeians, were at the head of 
the well-to-do citizens. They therefore fell into disrepute, 
and their degradation was such, that thirty lictors used 
to assemble and do what the Comitia Curiata should have 

The division by centuries was so favourable to the 
aristocracy that it is hard to see at first how the senate 
ever failed to carry the day in the comitia bearing their 
name, by which the consuls, the censors and the other 
curule magistrates were elected. Indeed, of the hundred 
and ninety-three centuries into which the six classes of 
the whole Roman people were divided, the first class con 
tained ninety-eight ; and, as voting went solely by cen 
turies, this class alone had a majority over all the rest. 
When all these centuries were in agreement, the rest of 
the votes were not even taken ; the decision of the smallest 
number passed for that of the multitude, and it may be 
said that, in the Comitia Centuriata, decisions were regu 
lated far more by depth of purses than by the number of 

But this extreme authority was modified in two ways. 
First, the tribunes as a rule, and always a great number 
of plebeians, belonged to the class of the rich, and so 
counterbalanced the influence of the patricians in the first 

The second way was this. Instead of causing the 
centuries to vote throughout in order, which would have 
meant beginning always with the first, the Romans always 
chose one by lot which proceeded alone to the election ; 
after this all the centuries were summoned another day 
according to their rank, and the same election was 

IO4 The Social Contract 

repeated, and as a rule confirmed. Thus the authority 
of example was taken away from rank, and given to the 
lot on a democratic principle. 

From this custom resulted a further advantage. The 
citizens from the country had time, between the two 
elections, to inform themselves of the merits of the can 
didate who had been provisionally nominated, and did not 
have to vote without knowledge of the case. But, under 
the pretext of hastening matters, the abolition of this 
custom was achieved, and both elections were held on the 
same day. 

The Comitia Tributa were properly the council of the 
Roman people. They were convoked by the tribunes 
alone; at them the tribunes were elected and passed their 
plebiscita. The senate not only had no standing in them, 
but even no right to be present ; and the senators, being 
forced to obey laws on which they could not vote, were 
in this respect less free than the meanest citizens. This 
injustice was altogether ill-conceived, and was alone 
enough to invalidate the decrees of a body to which all 
its members were not admitted. Had all the patricians 
attended the comitia by virtue of the right they had as 
citizens, they would not, as mere private individuals, have 
had any considerable influence on a vote reckoned by 
counting heads, where the meanest proletarian was as 
good as the princeps senatus. 

It may be seen, therefore, that besides the order which 
was achieved by these various ways of distributing so 
great a people and taking its votes, the various methods 
were not reducible to forms indifferent in themselves, but 
the results of each were relative to the objects which 
caused it to be preferred. 

Without going here into further details, we may gather 
from what has been said above that the Comitia Tributa 
were the most favourable to popular government, and the 
Comitia Centuriata to aristocracy. The Comitia Curiata, 
in which the populace of Rome formed the majority, being 
fitted only to further tyranny and evil designs, naturally 
fell into disrepute, and even seditious persons abstained 
from using a method which too clearly revealed their 
projects. It is indisputable that the whole majesty of the 
Roman people lay solely in the Comitia Centnriata, which 

The Social Contract 105 

alone included all ; for the Comitia Curiata excluded the 
rural tribes, and the Comitia Tributa the senate and the 

As for the method of taking- the vote, it was among the 
ancient Romans as simple as their morals, although not 
so simple as at Sparta. Each man declared his vote 
aloud, and a clerk duly wrote it down ; the majority in 
each tribe determined the vote of the tribe, the majority of 
the tribes that of the people, and so with curiec and cen 
turies. This custom was good as long as honesty was 
triumphant among the citizens, and each man was ashamed 
to vote publicly in favour of an unjust proposal or an 
unworthy subject ; but, when the people grew corrupt and 
votes were bought, it was fitting that voting should be 
secret in order that purchasers might be restrained by 
mistrust, and rogues be given the means of not being 

I know that Cicero attacks this change, and attributes 
partly to it the ruin of the Republic. But though I feel 
the weight Cicero s authority must carry on such a point, 
I cannot agree with him ; I hold, on the contrary, that, 
for want of enough such changes, the destruction of the 
State must be hastened. Just as the regimen of health 
does not suit the sick, we should not wish to govern a 
people that has been corrupted by the laws that a good 
people requires. There is no better proof of this rule than 
the long life of the Republic of Venice, of which the 
shadow still exists, solely because its laws are suitable 
only for men who are wicked. 

The citizens were provided, therefore, with tablets by 
means of which each man could vote without any one 
knowing how he voted : new methods were also introduced 
for collecting the tablets, for counting voices, for com 
paring numbers, etc. ; but all these precautions did not 
prevent the good faith of the officers charged with these 
functions l from being often suspect. Finally, to prevent 
intrigues and trafficking in votes, edicts were issued ; but 
their very number proves how useless they were. 

Towards the close of the Republic, it was often neces 
sary to have recourse to extraordinary expedients in order 

1 Custodrs, di rib it ores, rogatores sitffragloritm. 

106 The Social Contract 

to supplement the inadequacy of the laws. Sometimes 
miracles were supposed ; but this method, while it might 
impose on the people, could not impose on those who 
governed. Sometimes an assembly was hastily called 
together, before the candidates had time to form their 
factions : sometimes a whole sitting was occupied with 
talk, when it was seen that the people had beerj won over 
and was on the point of taking up a wrong position. But 
in the end ambition eluded all attempts to check it ; and 
the most incredible fact of all is that, in the midst of all 
these abuses, the vast people, thanks to its ancient regula 
tions, never ceased to elect magistrates, to pass laws, to 
judge cases, and to carry through business both public 
and private, almost as easily as the senate itself could 
have done. 



WHEN a exact proportion cannot be established between 
the constituent parts of the State, or when causes that 
r cannot be removed continually alter the relation of one 
part to another, recourse is had to the institution of a 
peculiar magistracy that enters into no corporate unity 
with the rest. This restores to each term its right relation 
to the others, and provides a link or middle. term between 
either prince and people, or prince and Sovereign, or, if 
necessary, both at once. 

This body, which I shall call the tribunate, is the pre 
server of the laws and of the legislative power. It serves 
sometimes to protect the Sovereign against the govern 
ment, as the tribunes of the people did at Rome ; some 
times to uphold the government against the people, as 
the Council of Ten now does at Venice ; and sometimes 
to maintain the balance between the two, as the Ephors 
did at Sparta. 

The tribunate is not a constituent part of the city, and 
should have no share in either legislative or executive 
ipower; but this very fact makes its own power .the 
creator : for, while it can do nothing, it can prevent 

The Social Contract 107 

anything from being done. It is more sacred and morey 
revered, as the defender of the laws, than the prince who\ 
executes them, or than the Sovereign which ordains them. J 
This was seen very clearly at Rome, when the proud ) 
jatricians, for all their scorn of the people, were forced 
:o bow before one of its officers, who had neither auspices 
nor jurisdiction. 

The tribunate, wisely tempered, is the strongest support 
a good constitution can have ; but if its strength is ever 
so little excessive, it upsets the whole State. Weakness, 
on the other hand, is not natural to it : provided it is 
sounething, it is never less than it should be. 
J It degenerates into tyranny when it usurps the executive 
)ower, which it should confine itself to restraining, and 
when it tries to dispense with the laws, which it should 
confine itself to protecting. The immense power of the 
iphors, harmless as long as Sparta preserved its morality, 
lastened corruption when once it had begun. The blood 
of Agis, slaughtered by these tyrants, was avenged by 
us successor ; the crime and the punishment of the Ephors 
alike hastened the destruction of the republic, and after 
/leomenes Sparta ceased to be of any account. Rome 
>erished in the same way : the excessive power of the 
ribunes, which they had usurped by degrees, finally 
served, with the help of laws made to secure liberty, as 
a safeguard for the emperors who destroyed it. As for 
the Venetian Council of Ten, it is a tribunal of blood, an 
object of horror to patricians and people alike ; and, so 
ar from giving a lofty protection to the laws, it does 
nothing, now they have become degraded, but strike in 
the darkness blows of which no one dare take note. 

The tribunate, like the government, grows weak as the 
number of its members increases. When the tribunes of 
the Roman people, who first numbered only two, and then 
ive, wished to double that number, the senate let them 
do so, in the confidence that it could use one to check 
mother, as indeed it afterwards freely did. ^ 

The best method of preventing usurpations by so for 
midable a body, though no government has yet made use 
>f it, would be not to make it permanent, but to regulate 
ihe periods during which it should remain in abeyance. 
These intervals, which should not be long enough to give 

io8 The Social Contract 

abuses time to grow strong, may be so fixed by law that 
they can easily be shortened at need by extraordinary 

This method seems to me to have no disadvantages, 
because, as I have said, the tribunate, which forms no 
part of the constitution, can be removed without the con 
stitution being affected. It seems to be also efficacious, 
because a newly restored magistrate starts not with the 
power his predecessor exercised, but with that which the 
law allows him. 



THE inflexibility of the laws, which prevents them from 
adapting themselves to circumstances, may, in certain 
cases, render them disastrous, and make them bring about, 
at a time of crisis, the ruin of the State. The order and 
slowness of the forms they enjoin require a space of time 
which circumstances sometimes withhold. A thousand 
cases against which the legislator has made no provision 
may present themselves, and it is a highly necessary part 
of foresight to be conscious that everything cannot be 

It is wrong therefore to wish to make political institu 
tions so strong as to render it impossible to suspend their 
operation. Even Sparta allowed its laws to lapse. 

However, none but the greatest dangers can counter 
balance that of changing the public order, and the sacrec 
[power of the laws should never be arrested save when the 
I existence of the country is at stake. In these rare anc 
obvious cases, provision is made for the public securit) 
by a particular act entrusting it to him who is mosi 
worthy. This commitment may be carried out in either ol 
two ways, according to the nature of the danger. 
^J If increasing the activity of the government is a sufficient 
(remedy, power is concentrated in the hands of one or twc 
I of. its members : in this case the change is not in tht 
jauthority of the laws, but only in the form of administei^ 
4ng them. If, on the other hand, the peril is of such ^ 

The Social Contract IOQ 

cind that the paraphernalia of the laws are an obstacle to I 
their preservation, the method is to nominate a supreme \ 
ruler, who shall silence all the laws and suspend for a_J 
moment the sovereign authority. (In such a case/thercT is 
no doubt about the general will, and it is clear that the 
people s first intention is that the State shall not perish. 
Thus the suspension of the legislative authority is in no 
sense its abolition ; the magistrate who silences it cannot 
make it speak ; he dominates it, but cannot represent it. 

e can do anything, except make laws. 

The first method was used by the Roman senate when, 
n a consecrated formula, it charged the consuls to pro 
vide for the safety of the Republic. The second was 
employed when one of the two consuls nominated 
dictator : l a custom Rome borrowed from Alba. 

During the first period of the Republic, recourse was 
very often had to the dictatorship, because the State had 
not yet a firm enough basis to be able to maintain itself 
>y the strength of its constitution alone. fAs the staTe ol 
morality then made superfluous many or the precautions 
which would have been necessary at other times, there was 
no fear that a dictator would abuse his authority, or try 
:o keep it beyond his term of office. On the contrary, so 
much power appeared to be burdensome to him who was 
clothed with it, and he made all speed to lay it down, as 
if taking the place of the laws had been too troublesome 
and too perilous a position to retain 

It is therefore the danger not of its abuse, but of its 
cheapening, that makes me attack the indiscreet use of 
this supreme magistracy in the earliest times. For as 
long as it was freely employed at elections, dedications 
and purely formal functions, there was danger of its 
becoming less formidable in time of need, and of men 
growing accustomed to regarding as empty a title that 
was used only on occasions of empty ceremonial. 

Towards the end of the Republic, the Romans, having 
grown more circumspect, were as unreasonably sparing 
in the use of the dictatorship as they had formerly been 
lavish. It is easy to see that their fears were without 

1 The nomination was made secretly by niijht, as if there were something 
shameful in setting a man above the laws. 

no The Social Contract 

foundatio, that the weakness of the capital secured it 
against the magistrates who were in its midst; that a 
dictator might, in certain cases, defend the public liberty, 
but could never endanger it ; and that the chains of Rome 
would be forged, not in Rome itself, but in her armies. 
The weak resistance offered by Marius to Sulla, and by 
Pompey to Caesar, clearly showed what was to be expected 
from authority at home against force from abroad. 

This misconception led the Romans to make great mis 
takes; such, for example, as the failure to nominate a 
dictator in the Catilinarian conspiracy. For, as only the 
city itself, with at most some province in Italy, was con 
cerned, the unlimited authority the laws gave to the 
dictator would have enabled him to make short work ol 
the conspiracy, which was, in fact, stifled only by a com 
bination of lucky chances human prudence had no right 
to expect. 

Instead, the senate contented itself with entrusting it? 
whole povrer to the consuls, so that Cicero, in order tc 
take effective action, was compelled on a capital point tc 
exceed his powers; and if, in the first transports of joy. 
his conduct was approved, he was justly called, later on, ti 
account for the blood of citizens spilt in violation of tht 
laws. Suck a reproach could never have been levelled a 
a dictator. But the consul s eloquence carried the day 
and he himself, Roman though he was, loved his owi 
glory better than his country, and sought, not so mud 
the most lawful and secure means of saving the State, a: 
to get for himself the whole honour of having done so. 
He was therefore justly honoured as the liberator of Rome 
and also justly punished as a law-breaker. Howeve 
brilliant his recall may have been, it was undoubtedly ai 
act. of pardon. 

/However this important trust be conferred, it is im 

fportant that its duration should be fixed at a very brie 

Iperiod, incapable of being ever prolonged. In the crise 

which lead to its adoption, the State is either soon lost 

or soon saved ; and, the present need passed, the dictator 

ship becomes either tyrannical or idle. At Rome, wher 

1 That is what he could not be sure of, if he proposed a dictator ; for b 
dared not nominate himself, and could not be certain that his colleagr: 
would nominate him. 

The Social Contract 1 1 1 

Ictators held office for six months only, most of them 

jdicated before their time was up. If their term had 

een longer, they might well have tried to prolong- it still 

urther, as the decemvirs did when chosen for a year. 

he dictator had only time to provide against the need 

lat had caused him to be chosen; he had none to think 

further projects. 



4s .the law is the declaration of the general will, the) 
ensorship is the declaration of the public judgment :/ 
ublic opinion is the form of law which the censor 
dministers, and, like the prince, only applies to particular 
ases. -\ 

The censorial tribunal, so far from being the arbiter of) 
ic people s opinion, only declares it, and, as soon as the! 

O part company, its decisions are null and void. J 

It is useless to distinguish the morality of a nation from 
ic objects of its esteem ; both depend on the same prin- 
ple and are necessarily indistinguishable. There is no 
eople on earth the choice of whose pleasures is not 
ecided by opinion rather than nature. Right men s 
pinions, and their morality will purge itself. Men always 
>ve what is good or what they find good ; it is in judging 
rhat is good that they go wrong. This judgment, there/ 
ore, is what must be regulated. He who judges on 

orality judges of honour ; and he who judges of honour/ 
nds his law in opinion. 

The opinions of a people are derived from its constitu- 
on ; although the law does not regulate morality, it is 
^gislation that gives it birth. When legislation grows 
;eak, morality degenerates ; but in such cases the judg- 
icnt of the censors will not do what the force of the laws 
as failed to effect. 

From this it follows that the censorship may be useful 
>r the preservation of morality, but can never be so for 
s restoration. Set up censors while the laws are vigor- 
us; as soon as they have lost their vigour, all hope is 

ii2 The Social Contract 

gone; no legitimate power can retain force when the laws 
have lost it. s 

The censorship upholds morality by preventing opinion 
from growing corrupt, by preserving- its rectitude by 
means of wise applications, and sometimes even by fixing 
it when it is still uncertain. The employment of seconds 
in duels, which had been carried to wild extremes in the 
kingdom of France, was done away with merely by these 
words in a royal edict: "As for those who are cowards 
enough to call upon seconds." This judgment, in antici 
pating that of the public, suddenly decided it. But when 
edicts from the same source tried to pronounce duelling 
itself an act of cowardice, as indeed it is, then, since 
common opinion does not regard it as such, the public 
took no notice of a decision on a point on which its mine 
was already made up. 

I have stated elsewhere * that as public opinion is not 
subject to any constraint, there need be no trace of it ir 
the tribunal set up to represent it. It is impossible tc 
admire too much the art with which this resource, which 
we moderns have wholly lost, was employed by the 
Romans, and still more by the Lacedaemonians. 

A man of bad morals having made a good proposa 
in the Spartan Council, the Ephors neglected it, anc 
caused the same proposal to be made by a virtuous citizen 
What an honour for the one, and what a disgrace foi 
the other, without praise or blame of either ! Certair 
drunkards from Samos 2 polluted the tribunal of th< 
Ephors : the next day, a public edict gave Samians per 
mission to be filthy. An actual punishment would no 
have been so severe as such an impunity. When Sparti 
has pronounced on what is or is not right, Greece make: 
no appeal from her judgments. 

1 I merely call attention in this chapter to a subject with which I hav 
dealt at greater length in my Letter to M. d Alembert. 

They were from another island, which the delicacy of our languag 
forbids me to name on this occasion. 

The Social Contract 113 



Ax first men had no kings save the gods, and no 
government save theocracy. They reasoned like Caligula, 
and, at that period, reasoned aright. It takes a long 
time for feeling so to change that men can make up their 
minds to take their equals as masters, in the hope that 
they will profit by doing so. 

From the mere fact that God was set over every political 
society, it followed that there were as many gods as 
peoples. Two peoples that were strangers the one to the 
other, and almost always enemies, could not long recog 
nise the same master : two armies giving battle could not 
obey the same leader. National divisions thus led to 
polytheism, and this in turn gave rise to theological and 
civil intolerance, which, as we shall see hereafter, are by 
nature the same. 

The fancy the Greeks had for rediscovering their gods 
among the barbarians arose from the way they had of 
regarding themselves as the natural Sovereigns of such 
peoples. But there is nothing so absurd as the erudition 
which in our days identifies and confuses gods of different 
nations. As if Moloch, Saturn and Chronos could be the 
same god ! As if the Phoenician Baal, the Greek Zeus, 
and the Latin Jupiter could be the same ! As if there could 
still be anything common to imaginary beings with 
different names ! 

If it is asked how in pagan times, where each State had 
its cult and its gods, there were no wars of religion, I 
answer that it was precisely because each State, having 
its own cult as well as its own government, made no 
distinction between its gods and its laws. Political war 
was also theological ; the provinces of the gods were, so 
to speak, fixed by the boundaries of nations. The god 
t>f one people had no right over another. The gods of the 
pagans were not jealous gods ; they shared among them 
selves the empire of the world : even Moses and the 
Hebrews sometimes lent themselves to this view by speak 
ing of the God of Israel. It is true, they regarded a< 

114 The Social Contract 

powerless the gods of the Canaanites, a proscribed people 
condemned to destruction, whose place they were to take; 
but remember how they spoke of the divisions of the 
neighbouring peoples they were forbidden to attack ! " Is 
not the possession of what belongs to your god Chamos 
lawfully your due?" said Jephthah to the Ammonites. 
"We have the same title to the lands our conquering God 
has made his own." x Here, I think, there is a recognition 
that the rights of Chamos and those of the God of Israel 
are of the same nature. 

But when the Jews, being subject to the kings of 
Babylon, and, subsequently, to those of Syria, still obsti 
nately refused to recognise any god save their own, their 
refusal was regarded as rebellion against their conqueror, 
and drew down on them the persecutions we read of in 
their history, which are without parallel till the coming of 
Christianity. 2 

Every religion, therefore, being attached solely to the 
laws of the State which prescribed it, there was no way 
of converting a people except by enslaving it, and there 
could be no missionaries save conquerors. The obliga 
tion to change cults being the law to which the van 
quished yielded, it was necessary to be victorious before 
suggesting such a change. So far from men fighting for 
the gods, the gods, as in Homer, fought for men ; each 
asked his god for victory, and repayed him with new 
altars. The Romans, before taking a city, summoned 
its gods to quit it; and, in leaving the Tarentines" their 
outraged gods, they regarded them as subject to their 
own and compelled to do them homage. They left the 
vanquished their gods as they left them their laws. A 
wreath to the Jupiter of the Capitol was often the only 
tribute they imposed. 

1 Nonne ea qnas possidet Chamos deus tuus, tibi jure debentur ? (Judges 
xi. 24). Such is the text in the Vulgate. Father de Carrieres translates : 
" Do you not regard yourselves as having a right to what your god pos 
sesses?" I do not know the force of the Hebrew text: but I perceive 
that, in the Vulgate, Jephthah positively recognises the right of the god 
Chamos, and that the French translator weakened this admission by insert 
ing an "according to you," which is not in the Latin. 

2 It is quite clear that the Phocian war, which was called " the Sacred 
War," was not a war of religion. Its object was the punishment of acts of 
sacrilege, and not the conquest of unbelievers. 

The Social Contract 115 

Finally, when, along- with their empire, the Romans had 
spread their cult and their gods, and had themselves often 
adopted those of the vanquished, by granting to both alike 
the rights of the city, the peoples of that vast empire 
insensibly found themselves with multitudes of gods and 
cults, everywhere almost the same ; and thus paganism 
throughout the known world finally came to be one and 
the same religion. 

It was in these circumstances that Jesus came to set 
up on earth a spiritual kingdom, which, by separating the 
theological from the political system, made the State no 
longer one, and brought about the internal divisions which 
have never ceased to trouble Christian peoples. As the 
new idea of a kingdom of the other world could never 
have occurred to pagans, they always looked on the 
Christians as really rebels, who, while feigning to submit, 
were only waiting for the chance to make themselves inde 
pendent and their masters, and to usurp by guile the 
authority they pretended in their weakness to respect. 
This was the cause of the persecutions. 

What the pagans had feared took place. Then every 
thing changed its aspect : the humble Christians changed 
their language, and soon this so-called kingdom of the 
other world turned, under a visible leader, into the most 
violent of earthly despotisms. 

However, as there have always been a prince and civil 
laws, this double power and conflict of jurisdiction have 
made all good polity impossible in Christian States; and 
men have never succeeded in finding out whether they were 
bound to obey the master or the priest. 

Several peoples, however, even in Europe and its neigh 
bourhood, have desired without success to preserve or 
restore the old system : but the spirit of Christianity has 
everywhere prevailed. The sacred cult has always 
remained or again become independent of the Sovereign, 
and there has been no necessary link between it and the 
body of the State. Mahomet held very sane views, and 
linked his political system well together; and, as long as 
the form of his government continued under the caliphs 
who succeeded him, that government was indeed one, and 
so far good. But the Arabs, having grown prosperous, 
lettered, civilised, slack and cowardly, were conquered by 

n6 The Social Contract 

barbarians : the division between the two powers began 
again ; and, although it is less apparent among the Ma 
hometans than among the Christians, it none the less 
exists, especially in the sect of AH, and there are States, 
such as Persia, where it is continually making itself felt. 

Among us, the Kings of England have made themselves 
heads of the Church, and the Czars have done the same : 
but this title has made them less its masters than its 
ministers ; they have gained not so much the right to 
change it, as the power to maintain it : they are not its 
legislators, but only its princes. Wherever the clergy is 
a corporate body, 1 it is master and legislator in its owr 
country. There are thus two powers, two Sovereigns, ir 
England and in Russia, as well as elsewhere. 

Of all Christian writers, the philosopher Hobbes alone 
has seen the evil and how to remedy it, and has dared t 
propose the reunion of the two heads of the eagle, and 
the restoration throughout of political unity, withou 
which no State or government will ever be rightly consti 
tuted. But he should have seen that the masterful spiri 
of Christianity is incompatible with his system, and that< 
the priestly interest would always be stronger than that of 
the State. It is not so much what is false and terrible 
in his political theory, as what is just and true, that has 
drawn down hatred on it. 2 

I believe that if the study of history were developed from 
this point of view, it would be easy to refute the contrary 
opinions of Bayle and Warburton, one of whom holds that 
religion can be of no use to the body politic, while the 
other, on the contrary, maintains that Christianity is its 
strongest support. We should demonstrate to the former 

1 It should be noted that the clergy find their bond of union not so much in 
formal assemblies, as in the communion of Churches. Communion and ex 
communication are the social compact of the clergy, a compact which will 
always make them masters of peoples and kings All priests who communi 
cate together are fellow-citizens, even if they come from opposite ends of 
the earth. This invention is a masterpiece of statesmanship : there is 
nothing like it among pagan priests ; who have therefore never formed a 
clerical corporate body. 

1 See, for instance, in a letter from Grotius to his brother (April u, 
1643), what that learned man found to praise and to blame in the DC Give, 
It is true that, with a bent for indulgence, he seems to pardon the writer 
the good for the sake of the bad ; but all men are not so forgiving. 

The Social Contract 117 

that no State has ever been founded without a religious 
basis, and to the latter, that the law on Christianity at 
bottom does more harm by weakening than good by 
strengthening the constitution of the State.*) To make 
myself understood, I have only to make a little more exact 
the too vague ideas of religion as relating to this subject. 
Religion, considered in relation to society, which is 
either general or particular, may also be divided into two 
kinds : the religion of man, and that of the citizen. The 
first, which has neither temples, nor altars, nor rites, and 
is confined to the purely internal cult of the supreme God 
and the eternal obligations of morality, is the religion of 
the Gospel pure and simple, the true theism, what may be 
called natural divine right or law. The other, which is \ 
codified in a single country, gives it its gods, its own/ 
tutelary patrons; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its/ 
external cult prescribed by law ; outside the single nation\ 
that follows it, all the world is in its sight infidel, foreign ) 
and barbarous ; the duties and rights of man extend for it \ 
only as far as its own altars. Of this kind were all the ) 
religions of early peoples, which we may define as civil or I 
Dositive divine right or law. 

f There is a third sort of religion of a more singular kind, 
which gives men two codes of legislation, two rulers, and 
two countries, renders them subject to contradictory 
Duties, and makes it impossible for them to be faithful both 
to religion and to citizenship. Such are the religions of 
the Lamas and of the Japanese, and such is Roman 
hristianity, which may be called the religion of the priest, 
[t leads to a sort of mixed and anti-social code which has 
no name. 

In their political aspect, all these three kinds of religion 
have their defects. The third is so clearly bad, that it is 
waste of time to stop to prove it such. All that destroys 
social unity is worthless; all institutions that set man in 
contradiction to himself are worthless. 
f The second is good in that it unites the divine cult with 
love of the laws, and, making country the object of the 
citizens adoration, teaches them that service done to the 
State is service done to its tutelary god. It is a form 
of theocracy, in which there can be no pontiff save the 
prince, and no priests save the magistrates. To die for 

n8 The Social Contract 

one s country then becomes martyrdom; violation of its 
laws, impiely; and to subject one who is guilty to public 
execration is to condemn him to the anger of the gods : 
Sacer estod. ^ 

On the other hand, it is bad in that, being founded on , 
lies and error, it deceives men, makes them credulous and( 
superstitious, and drowns the true cult of the Divinity in 
empty ceremonial. It is bad, again, when it becomes 
tyrannous and exclusive, and makes a people bloodthirsty ( 
and intolerant, so that it breathes fire and slaughter, and 
regards as a sacred act the killing of every one who does 
not believe in its gods. The result is to place such a 
people in a natural state of war with all others, so that its 
security is deeply endangered. 

There remains therefore the religion of man or Chris 
tianity not the Christianity of to-day, but that of the 
Gospel, which is entirely different. By means of this holy, 
sublime, and real religion all men, being children of one 
God, recognise one another as brothers, and the society 
that unites them is not dissolved even at death. 

But this religion, having no particular relation to the 
body politic, leaves the laws in possession of the force they 
have in themselves without making any addition to it ; 
and thus one of the great bonds that Vmite society con 
sidered in severalty fails to operate. Nay, more, so far 
from binding the hearts of the citizens to the State, it has 
the effect of taking them away from all earthly things. I 
know of nothing more contrary to the social spirit. 

We are told that a people of true Christians would form 
the most perfect society imaginable. I see in this sup 
position only one great difficulty : that a society of true 
Christians would not be a society of men. 

I say further that such a society, with all its perfection, 
would be neither the strongest nor the most lasting : the 
very fact that it was perfect would rob it of its bond of 
union ; the flaw that would destroy it would lie in its very 

Every one would do his duty ; the people would be law- 
abiding, the rulers just and temperate ; the magistrates 
upright and incorruptible ; the soldiers would scorn death ; 
there would be neither vanity nor luxury. So far, so 
good ; but let us hear more. 

The Social Contract 1 19 

Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied 

solely with heavenly things; the country of the Christian 

is not of this world. He does his duty, indeed, but does 

L it with profound indifference to the good or ill success of 

(his cares. Provided he has nothing to reproach himself 

with, it matters little to him whether things go well or ill 

here on earth. If the State is prosperous, he hardly dares 

to share in the public happiness, for fear he may grow 

proud of his country s glory; if the State is languishing, 

he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His people. 

For the State to be peaceable and for harmony to be 
maintained, all the citizens without exception would have 
to be good Christians ; if by ill hap there should be a single 
self-seeker or hypocrite, a Catiline or a Cromwell, for 
instance, he vyould certainly get the better of his pious 
compatriots. /Christian charity does nqt readily allow a. 
man to think ^hardly of his neighbours.} As soon as, by 
some trick, he has discovered the art of imposing on them 
and getting hold of a share in the public authority, you 
have a man established in dignity ; it is the will of God 
that he be respected: very soon you have a power; it is 
God s will that it be obeyed : and if the power is abused 
by him who wields it, it is the scourge wherewith God 
punishes His children. There would be scruples about 
driving out the usurper : public tranquillity would have to 
be disturbed, violence would have to be employed, and 
blood spilt; all this accords ill with Christian meekness; 
and after all, in this vale of sorrows, what does it matter 
whether we are free men or serfs? The essential thing 
is to get to heaven, and resignation is only an additional 
means of doing so. 

If war breaks out with another State, the citizens march 
readily out to battle ; not one of them thinks of flight ; 
they do their duty, but they have no passion for victory ; 
they know better how to die than how to conquer. What 
does it matter whether they win or lose? Does not Provi 
dence know better than they what is meet for them ? Only 
think to what account a proud, impetuous and passionate 
enemy could turn their stoicism ! Set over against them 
those generous peoples who were devoured by ardent love 
of glory and of their country, imagine your Christian 
republic face to face with Sparta or Rome : the pious 

12^ The Social Contract 

Christians will be beaten, crushed and destroyed, before 
they know where they are, or will owe their safety only 
to the contempt their enemy will conceive for them. It 
was to my mind a fine oath that was taken by the soldiers 
of Fabius, who swore, not to conquer or die, but to 
come back victorious and kept their oath. Christians 
would never have taken such an oath ; they would have 
lo.oked on it as tempting" God. 

/ But I am mistaken in speaking of a Christian republic ; 
/the terms are mutually exclusive. Christianity preaches 
lonly servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favourable 
ito tyranny that it always profits by such a regime. True 
^Christians are made to be slaves, and they know it and 
do not much mind : this short life counts for too little in 
their eyes. 

I shall be told that Christian troops are excellent. I 
deny it. Show me an instance. For my part, I know of 
no Christian troops. I shall be told of the Crusades. 
Without disputing the valour of the Crusaders, I answer 
that, so far from being Christians, they were the priests 
soldiery, citizens of the Church. They fought for their 
spiritual country, which the Church had, somehow or 
other, made temporal. Well understood, this goes back 
to paganism : as the Gospel sets up no national religion, 
a holy war is impossible among Christians. 

Under the pagan emperors, the Christian soldiers were 
brave ; every Christian writer affirms it, and I believe it : 
it was a case of honourable emulation of the pagan troops. 
As soon as the emperors were Christian, this emulation 
no longer existed, and, when the Cross had driven out the 
eagle, Roman valour wholly disappeared. 

But, setting aside political considerations, let us come 
back to what is right, and settle our principles on this 
important point. The right which hp social mm part 
seen, exceed the limits of public expediency. 1 The sub- 

1 "In the republic," says the Marquis d Argenson, " each man is per 
fectly free in what does not harm others." This is the invariable limitation, 
which it is impossible to define more exactly. I have not been nbletodeny 
myself the pleasure of occasionally quoting from this manuscript, though it 
is unknown to the public, in order to do honour to the memory of a good 
and illustrious man, who had kept even in the Ministry the heart of a good 
citizen, and views on the government of his country that were sane and 

The Social Contract 121 

ects then owe the Sovereign an account of their opinions 
>nly to such an extent as they matter to the community.. 
"Jow, it matters very much to the community that each 
itizen should have a religion. That will malce him love 
lis duty ; but the dogmas of that religion concern the 
State and its members only so far as they have reference 
o morality and to the duties which he who professes tllm 
s bound to do to others, j EiU!h man may have, o"ver and 
ibove, what opinions he pleases, without it being the 
Sovereign s business to take cognisance of them ; for, as 
he Sovereign has no authority in the other world, what- 
:ver the lot of its subjects may be in the life to come, that 
s not its business, provided they are good citizens in this 
ife. ~\ 

There, is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of ) 
vhich the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly asf 
eligious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which) 
i.. man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. M 
Awhile it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish 
rom the State whoever does not believe them it can 
>anish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, 
ncapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacri-^ 
icing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, afterf 
mblicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he doesj 
lot believe them, let him be punished by death : he has/ 
ommitted the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the) 

The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, 
ind exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. 
Che existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent 
Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life 
o come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the 
vicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws : 
hese are its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I 
Confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults 
ve have rejected. 

Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance 

122 The Social Contract 

are, to my mind, mistaken. The two forms are insepar 
able. It is impossible to live at peace with those we 
regard as damned ; to love them would be to hate God 
who punishes them : we positively must either reclaim OT 
torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is ad 
mitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect ; * and as 
soon as it has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer 
Sovereign even in the temporal sphere : thenceforth priest* 
are the real masters, and kings only their ministers. 
""Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive 
national religion, tolerance should be given to all religions 
that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contair 
nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. But who- ! 
pver dares to say : Outside the Church is no salvation 
>ught to be driven from the State, unless the State is th< 
"hurch, and the prince the pontiff. Such a dogma is gooc 
only in a theocratic government; in any other, it is fatal. 
The reason for which Henry IV is said to have embracec 
the Roman religion ought to make every honest man leavt 
it, and still more any prince who knows how to reason. 

1 Marriage, for instance, being a civil contract, has civil effects without 
which society cannot even subsist. Suppose a body of clergy should ciainr 
the sole right of permitting this act, a right which every intolerant religior 
must of necessity claim, is it not clear that in establishing the authority ; 
the Church in this respect, it will be destroying that of the prince, who wili 
have thenceforth only as many subjects as the clergy choose to allow him i 
Being in a position to marry or not to marry people, according to theii 
acceptance of such and such a doctrine, their admission or rejection of such 
and such a formula, their greater or less piety, the Church alone, by the 
exercise of prudence and firmness, will dispose of all inheritances, offices 
and citizens, and even of the State itself, which could not subsist if it were 
composed entirely of bastards ? But, I shall be told, there will be appeak 
on the ground of abuse, summonses and decrees ; the temporalities will be 
seized. How sad ! The clergy, however little, I will not say courage, bnt 
sense it has, will take no notice and go its way : it will quietly allow 
appeals, summonses, decrees and seizures, and, in the end, will remain the 
master. It is ot, I think, a great sacrifice to give up a part, when one k 
sure of securing aR. 

The Social Contract 123 



Now that I have laid down the true principles of 
)olitical right, and tried to give the State a basis of its 
>wn to rest on, I ought next to strengthen it by its external 
elations, which would include the law of nations, com- 
nerce, the right of war and conquest, public right, 
eagues, negotiations, treaties, etc. But all this forms a 
lew subject that is far too vast for my narrow scope. I 
>vght throughout to have kept to a more limited sphere. 








Barbaras hie ego sum, qui non intelligor illis. Ovio. 1 

1 [Here I am, a barbarian, because men understand me not.] 


THE following pages contain a discussion of one of the 
Inost .sublime and interesting of all moral questions. It 
s not concerned, however, with those metaphysical subtle- 
ies, which of late have found their way into every depart 
ment of literature, and from which even our academic 
[urricula are not always free. We have now to do with 
j>ne of those truths on which the happiness of mankind 

I I foresee that I shall not readily be forgiven for having 
aken up the position I have adopted. Setting myself up 
jigainst all that is nowadays most admired, 1 can expect 
jio less than a universal outcry against me : nor is the 
kpprobation of a few sensible men enough to make me 
;;ount on that of the public. But I have taken my stand, 
lind I shall be at no pains to please either intellectuals 
pr men of the world. There are in all ages men born 
r.o be in bondage to the opinions of the society in which 
hey live. There are not a few, who to-day play the 
iree-thinker and the philosopher, who would, if they had 
iived in the time of the League, have been no more than 
fanatics. No author, who has a mind to outlive his own 
ige, should write for such readers. 

A word more and I have done. As I did not expect 
:he honour conferred on me, I had, since sending in my 
Discourse, so altered and enlarged it as almost to make it 
a. new work; but in the circumstances I have felt bound 
to publish it just as it was when it received the prize. I 
have only added a few notes, and left two alterations 
which are easily recognisable, of which the Academy 
possibly might not have approved. The respect, gratitude 
and even justice I owe to that body seemed to me to 
demand this acknowledgment. 




Decipimur specie recti. HORACE. 

THE question before me is, "Whether the Restoration 
f the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying 
r corrupting morals." Which side am I to take? That, 
^ntlemen, which becomes an honest man, who is sensible 
f his own ignorance, and thinks himself none the worse 
>r it. 

I feel the difficulty of treating this subject fittingly, 
efore the tribunal which is to judge of what I advance, 
low can I presume to belittle the sciences before one of 
he most learned assemblies in Europe, to commend 
fnorance in a famous Academy, and reconcile my con- 
empt for study with the respect due to the truly learned? 

I was aware of these inconsistencies, but not dis- 
ouraged by them. It is not science, I said to myself, 
iat I am attacking ; it is virtue that I am defending, and 
iat before virtuous men and goodness is even dearer to 

e good than learning to the learned. 

What then have I to fear? The sagacity of the 
ssembly before which I am pleading? That, I acknow- 
edge, is to be feared ; but rather on account of faults of 
onstruction than of the views I hold. Just sovereigns 
ave never hesitated to decide against themselves in doubt- 
ul cases ; and indeed the most advantageous situation in 
/hich a just claim can be, is that of being laid before a 
ust and enlightened arbitrator, who is judge in his own 

To this motive, which encouraged me, I may add 
nother which finally decided me. And this is, that as I 
ave upheld the cause of truth to the best of my natural 
bililies, whatever my apparent success, there is one 
eward which cannot fail me. That reward 1 shall find in 
lie bottom of my heart. 

M 660 I2 9 

130 A Discourse on 


IT is a noble and beautiful spectacle to see man raising 
himself, so to speak, from nothing- by his own exertions 
dissipating, by the light of reason, all the thick clouds ii 
which he was by nature enveloped ; mounting above him 
self ; soaring in thought even to the celestial regions 
like the sun, encompassing with giant strides the vas 
extent of the universe ; and, what is still grander am 
more wonderful, going back into himself, there to stud 
man and get to know his own nature, his duties an- 
his end. All these miracles we have seen renewed withi; 
the last few generations. 

Europe had relapsed into the barbarism of the earlies 
ages; the inhabitants of this part of the world, which i 
at present so highly enlightened, were plunged, som 
centuries ago, in a state still worse than ignorance, t 
scientific jargon, more despicable than mere ignorance 
had usurped the name of knowledge, and opposed ai 
almost invincible obstacle to its restoration. 

Things had come to such a pass, that it required ; 
complete revolution to bring men back to common sense 
This came at last from the quarter from which it wa 
least to be expected. It was the stupid Mussulman, th 
eternal scourge of letters, who was the immediate caus 
of their revival among us. The fall of the throne of Con 
stantine brought to Italy the relics of ancient Greece ; am 
with these precious spoils France in turn was enriched 
The sciences soon followed literature, and the art of think 
ing joined that of writing : an order which may seer 
strange, but is perhaps only too natural. The world no\ 
began to perceive the principal advantage of an intercours 
with the Muses, that of rendering- mankind more sociabl 
by inspiring them with the desire to please one anothe 
with performances worthy of their mutual approbation. 

The mind, as well as the body, has its needs : thos 
of the body are the basis of society, those of the mind it 

So long as government and law provide for the securit 
and well-being of men in their common life, the arts, liters 
ture and the sciences, less despotic though perhaps mor 

The Arts and Sciences 131 

>werful, fling- garlands of flowers over the chains which 
eigh them down. They stifle in men s breasts that 
;nse of original liberty, for which they seem to have been , 
)rn ; cause them to love their own slavery, and so make / 

them what is called a civilised people. 

Necessity raised up thrones ; the arts and sciences have 
ade them strong. Powers of the earth, cherish all 
ilents and protect those who cultivate them. 1 Civilised 
:oples, cultivate such pursuits : to them, happy slaves, 
>u owe that delicacy and exquisiteness of taste, which is , 
) much your boast, that sweetness of disposition and 
banity of manners which make intercourse so easy and 
jreeable among you in a word, the appearance of all 
e virtues, without being in possession of one of them. 

It was for this sort of accomplishment, which is by so 
uch the more captivating as it seems less affected, that 
thens and Rome were . so much distinguished in the 
oasted times of their splendour and magnificence : and 

is doubtless in the same respect that our own age and 
ation will excel all periods and peoples. An air of 
lilosophy without pedantry ; an address at once natural 
id engaging, distant equally from Teutonic clumsiness 
nd Italian pantomime; these are the effects of a taste 
cquired by liberal studies and improved by conversation 
ith the world. What happiness would it be for those 
/ho live among us, if our external appearance were 
ways a true mirror of our hearts ; if decorum were but 
rtue ; if the maxims we professed were the rules of our 
onduct ; and if real philosophy were inseparable from the 
tie of a philosopher ! But so many good qualities too 
eldom go together; virtue rarely appears in so much 
omp and state. 

Richness of apparel may proclaim the man of fortune, 

1 Sovereigns always see with pleasure a taste for the arts of amusement 

d superfluity, which do not result in the exportation of bullion, increase 
mong their subjects. They very well know that, besides nourishing that 

tleness of mind which is proper to slavery, the increase of artificial wants 
ily binds so many more chains upon the people. Alexander, wishing to 

ep the Ichthvophnges in a state of dependence, compelled them to give 
3 fishing, and subsist on the customary food of civilised nations. The 
merican savages, who go naked, and live entirely on the products of the 
lase, have been always impossible to subdue. What yoke, indeed, car. 
imposed on men who stand in need of nothing ? 

132 A Discourse on 

and elegance the man of taste; but true health and mar 
liness are known by different signs. It is under the home 
spun of the labourer, and not beneath the gilt and tins* 
of the courtier, that we should look for strength and vigou 
of body. 

External ornaments are no less foreign to virtue, whic 
is the strength and activity of the mind. The honest ma 
is an athlete, who loves to wrestle stark naked; he scorr 
all those vile trappings, which prevent the exertion of h 
strength, and were, for the most part, invented only I 
conceal some deformity. 

Before art had moulded our behaviour, and taught 01 
passions to speak an artificial language, our morals wei 
rude but natural ; and the different ways in which v 
behaved proclaimed at the first glance the difference c 
our dispositions. Human nature was not at bottom bett 
then than now ; but men found their security in the ea. 
with which they could see through one another, and th 
advantage, of which we no longer feel the value, prevente 
their having many vices. 

In our day, now that more subtle study and a moi 
refined taste have reduced the art of pleasing to a systen 
there prevails in modern manners a servile and decepth 
conformity ; so that one would think every mind had bee 
cast in the same mould. Politeness requires this thing 
decorum that ; ceremony has its forms, and fashion r 
laws, and these we must always follow, never the promp 
ings of our own nature. 

We no longer dare seem what we really are, but 1 
under a perpetual restraint ; in the meantime the herd < 
men, which we call society, all act under the same circun 
stances exactly alike, unless very particular and powerfi 
motives prevent them. Thus we never know with who: 
we have to deal ; and even to know our friends we mu: 
wait for some critical and pressing occasion ; that is, t 
it is too late ; for it is on those very occasions that sue 
knowledge is of use to us. 

What a train of vices must attend this uncertaint) 
Sincere friendship, real esteem, and perfect confidence a: 
banished from among men. Jealousy, susnicion, fea 
coldness, reserve, hate and fraud lie constantly conceal* 
under that uniform and deceitful veil of politeness ; th; 

The Arts and Sciences 133 

oasted candour and urbanity, for which we are indebted 
o the light and leading of this age. We shall no longer 
ake in vain by our oaths the name of our Creator ; but we 
hall insult Him with our blasphemies, and our scrupulous 
ars will take no offence. We have grown too modest to 
rag of our own deserts ; but we do not scruple to decry 
hose of others. We do not grossly outrage even our 
nemies, but artfully calumniate them. Our hatred of 
ther nations diminishes, but patriotism dies with it. 
gnorance is held in contempt ; but a dangerous scepticism 
as succeeded it. Some vices indeed are condemned and 
thers grown dishonourable ; but we have still many that 
re honoured with the names of virtues, and it is become 
ecessary that we should either have, or at least pretend 
o have them. Let who will extol the moderation of our 
Todern sages, I see nothing in it but a refinement of 
itemperance as unworthy of my commendation as their 
rtificial simplicity. 1 

Such is the purity to which our morals have attained ; 
bis is the virtue we have made our own. Let the arts 
nd sciences claim the share they have had in this salutary 
/ork. I shall add but one reflection more ; suppose 
n inhabitant of some distant country should endeavour to 
orm an idea of European morals from the state of the 
ciences, the perfection of the arts, the propriety of our 
ublic entertainments, the politeness of our behaviour, 
ic affability of our conversation, our constant professions 
f benevolence, and from those tumultuous assemblies of 
eople of all ranks, who seem, from morning till night, 
:> have no other care than to oblige one another. Such a 
tranger, I maintain, would arrive at a totally false view 
f our morality. 

Where there is no effect, it is idle to look for a cause : 

ut here the effect is certain and the depravity actual ; 

jour minds have been corrupted in proportion as the arts 

and sciences have improved. Will it be said, that this is 

ia misfortune peculiar to the present age? No, gentlemen, 

1 " I love," said Montaigne, " to converse nnd hold an argument ; but 
only with very few people, and that for my own gratification. For to do so, 
hy way of affording amusement for the great, or of making a parade of one s 
talents, is, in my opinion, a trade verv ill-becoming a man of honour." It 
is the trade of all our intellectuals, save one. 

134 A Discourse on 

the evils resulting from our vain curiosity are as old as 
the world. The daily ebb and flow of the tides are not 
more regularly influenced by the moon, than the morals 
of a people by the progress of the arts and sciences. As 
their light has risen above our horizon, virtue has taken 
flight, and the same phenomenon has been constantly 
observed in all times and places. 

Take Egypt, the first school of mankind, that ancient 
country, famous for its fertility under a brazen sky ; the 
spot from which Sesostris once set out to conquer the 
world. Egypt became the mother of philosophy and the 
fine arts ; soon she was conquered by Cambyses, and then 
successively by the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, and 
finally the Turks. 

Take Greece, once peopled by heroes, who twice van 
quished Asia. Letters, as yet in their infancy, had not 
corrupted the disposition of its inhabitants ; but the pro 
gress of the sciences soon produced a dissoluteness of 
manners, and the imposition of the Macedonian yoke : 
from which time Greece, always learned, always volup 
tuous and always a slave, has experienced amid all its 
revolutions no more than a change of masters. Not all 
the eloquence of Demosthenes could breathe life into a 
body which luxury and the arts had once enervated. 

It was not till the days of Ennius and Terence that 
Rome, founded by a shepherd, and made illustrious by 
peasants, began to degenerate. But after the appearance 
of an Ovid, a Catullus, a Martial, and the rest of those 
numerous obscene authors, whose very names are enough 
to put modesty to the blush, Rome, once the shrine of 
virtue, became the theatre of vice, a scorn among the 
nations, and an object of derision even to barbarians. 
Thus the capital of the world at length submitted to the 
yoke of slavery it had imposed on others, and the very day 
of its fall was the eve of that on which it conferred on one 
of its citizens the title of Arbiter of Good Taste. 

What shall I say of that metropolis of the Eastern 
Empire, which, by its situation, seemed destined to be the 
capital of the world ; that refuge of the arts and sciences, 
when they were banished from the rest of Europe, more 
perhaps by wisdom than barbarism? The most profligate 
debaucheries, the most abandoned villainies, the most 
atrocious crimes, plots, murders and assassinations form 

The Arts and Sciences 135 

be warp and woof of the history of Constantinople. Such 
s the pure source from which have flowed to us the floods 
f knowledge on which the present age so prides itself. 

But wherefore should we seek, in past ages, for proofs 
f a truth, of which the present affords us ample evidence? 
"here is in Asia a vast empire, where learning is held in 
lonour, and leads to the highest dignities in the state, 
f the sciences improved our morals, if they inspired us 
vith courage and taught us to lay down our lives for the 
rood of our country, the Chinese should be wise, free and 
nvincible. But, if there be no vice they do not practise, 
10 crime with which they are not familiar ; if the sagacity 
)f their ministers, the supposed wisdom of their laws, 
md the multitude of inhabitants who people that vast 
smpire, have alike failed to preserve them from the yoke 
)f the rude and ignorant Tartars, of what use were their 
Tien of science and literature? What advantage has that 
country reaped from the honours bestowed on its learned 
Tien? Can it be that of being peopled by a race of 
scoundrels and slaves? 

Contrast with these instances the morals of those few 
lations which, being preserved from the contagion of 
aseless knowledge, have by their virtues become happy 
n themselves and afforded an example to the rest of the 
world. Such were the first inhabitants of Persia, a nation 
so singular that virtue was taught among them in the 
same manner as the sciences are with us. They very 
easily subdued Asia, and possess the exclusive glory of 
laving had the history of their political institutions 
regarded as a philosophical romance. Such were the 
Scythians, of whom such wonderful eulogies have come 
down to us. Such were the Germans, whose simplicity, 
innocence and virtue, afforded a most delightful contrast 
to the pen of an historian, weary of describing the base 
ness and villainies of an enlightened, opulent and volup 
tuous nation. Such had been even Rome in the days of 
its poverty and ignorance. And such has shown itself to 
be, even in our own times, that rustic nation, whose justly 
renowned courage not even adversity could conquer, and 
whose fidelity no example could corrupt. 1 

1 I d:ire not speak of those happy nations, who did not even know the 
name of many vices, which we find it difficult to suppress ; the savages of 
America, whose simple and natural mode of government Montaigne 


A Discourse on 

It is not through stupidity that the people have pre 
ferred other activities to those of the mind. They were 
not ignorant that in other countries there were men who 
spent their time in disputing idly about the sovereign 
good, and about vice and virtue. They knew that these 
useless thinkers were lavish in their own praises, and stig 
matised other nations contemptuously as barbarians. But 
they noted the morals of these people, and so learnt what 
to think of their learning. 1 

Can it be forgotten that, in the very heart of Greece, 
there arose a city as famous for the happy ignorance of 
its inhabitants, as for the wisdom of its laws ; a republic 
of demi-gods rather than of men, so greatly superior their 
virtues seemed to those of mere humanity? Sparta, 
eternal proof of the vanity of science, while the vices, 
under the conduct of the fine arts, were being introduced 
into Athens, even while its tyrant was carefully collecting 
together the works of the prince of poets, was driving 
from her walls artists and the arts, the learned and their 
learning ! 

The difference was seen in the outcome. Athens be 
came the seat of politeness and taste, the country of 
orators and philosophers. The elegance of its buildings 
equalled that of its language ; on every side might be 
seen marble and canvas, animated by the hands of the 
most skilful artists. From Athens we derive those 
astonishing performances, which will serve as models to 
every corrupt age. The picture of Lacedcemon is not so 
highly coloured. There, the neighbouring nations used 
to say, " men were born virtuous, their native air seeming 

preferred, without hesitation, not only to the laws of Plato, but to the most 
perfect visions of government philosophy can ever supgest. He cites many 
examples, striking for those who are capable of appreciating them. But, 
what of all that, says he, they can t run to a pair of breeches ! 

1 What are we to think was the real opinion of the Athenians themselves 
about eloquence, when they were so very careful to banish declamation from 
that upright tribunal, against whose decision even their gods made no 
appeal ? What did the Romans think of physicians, when they expelled 
medicine from the republic? And when the relics of humanity left 
among the Spaniards induced them to forbid their lawyers to set foot in 
America, what must they have thought of jurisprudence? May it not be 
said that they thought, by this single expedient, to make reparation for all 
the outrages they had committed against the unhappy Indians? 

The Arts and Sciences 137 

to inspire them with virtue." But its inhabitants have left 
us nothing but the memory of their heroic actions : monu 
ments that should not count for less in our eyes than the 
most curious relics of Athenian marble. 

It is true that, among- the Athenians, there were some 
few wise men who withstood the general torrent, and pre 
served their integrity even in the company of the muses- 
But hear the judgment which the principal, and most un 
happy of them, passed on the artists and learned men of 
his day. 

"I have considered the poets," says he, "and I look 
upon them as people whose talents impose both on them 
selves and on others ; they give themselves out for wise 
men, and are taken for such ; but in reality they are 
anything sooner than that." 

"From the poets," continues Socrates, "I turned to the 
artists. Nobody was more ignorant of the arts than 
myself ; nobody was more fully persuaded that the artists 
were possessed of amazing knowledge. I soon discovered, 
however, that they were in as bad a way as the poets, and 
that both had fallen into the same misconception. Be 
cause the most skilful of them excel others in their 
particular jobs, they think themselves wiser than all the 
rest of mankind. This arrogance spoilt all their skill in 
my eyes, so that, putting myself in the place of the oracle, 
and asking myself whether I would rather be what I am 
or what they are, know what they know, or know that 
I know nothing, I very readily answered, for myself and 
the god, that I had rather remain as I am. 

"None of us, neither the sophists, nor the poets, nor 
the orators, nor the artists, nor I, know what is the nature 
of the true, the good, or the beautiful. But there is this 
difference between us ; that, though none of these people 
know anything, they all think they know something ; 
whereas for my part, if I know nothing, I am at least in 
no doubt of my ignorance. So the superiority of wisdom, 
imputed to me by the oracle, is reduced merely to my 
being fully convinced that I am ignorant of what I do not 

Thus we find Socrates, the wisest of men in the judg 
ment of the god, and the most learned of all the Athenians 
in the opinion of all Greece, speaking in praise of ignor- 


A Discourse on 

ance. Were he alive now, there is little reason to think 
that our modern scholars and artists would induce him 
to chang-e his mind. No, gentlemen, that honest man 
would still persist in despising our vain sciences. He 
would lend no aid to swell the flood of books that flows 
from every quarter : he would leave to us, as he did 
to his disciples, only the example and memory of his 
virtues ; that is the noblest method of instructing 

Socrates had begun at Athens, and the elder Cato pro 
ceeded at Rome, to inveigh against those seductive and 
subtle Greeks, who corrupted the virtue and destroyed the 
courage of their fellow-citizens : culture, however, pre 
vailed. Rome was filled with philosophers and orators, 
military discipline was neglected, agriculture was held in 
contempt, men formed sects, and forgot their country. 
To the sacred names of liberty, disinterestedness and 
obedience to law, succeeded those of Epicurus, Zeno and 
Arcesilaus. It was even a saying among their own 
philosophers that since learned men appeared among them, 
honest men had been in eclipse. Before that time the 
Romans were satisfied with the practice of virtue; they 
were undone when they began to study it. 

What would the great soul of Fabricius have felt, if 
it had been his misfortune to be called back to life, when 
he saw the pomp and magnificence of that Rome, which 
his arm had saved from ruin, and his honourable name 
made more illustrious than all its conquests. " Ye gods ! * 
he would have said, "what has become of those thatched 
roofs and rustic hearths, which were formerly the habita 
tions of temperance and virtue? What fatal splendour 
has succeeded the ancient Roman simplicity? What is 
this foreign language, this effeminacy of manners? What 
is the meaning of these statues, paintings and buildings? 
Fools, what have you done? You, the lords of the earth, 
have made yourselves the slaves of the frivolous nations 
you have subdued. You are governed by rhetoricians, 
and it has been only to enrich architects, painters, sculptors 
and stage-players that you have watered Greece and Asia 
with your blood. Even the spoils of Carthage are the 
prize of a flute-player. Romans ! Romans ! make haste 
to demolish those amphitheatres, break to pieces those 

The Arts and Sciences 139 

statues, burn those painting s ; drive from among you those 
slaves who keep you in subjection, and whose fatal arts 
are corrupting your morals. Let other hands make them 
selves illustrious by such vain talents ; the only talent 
worthy of Rome is that of conquering the world and 
making virtue its ruler. When Cyneas took the Roman 
senate for an assembly of kings, he was not struck by 
either useless pomp or studied elegance. He heard there 
none of that futile eloquence, which is now the study and 
the charm of frivolous orators. What then was the 
majesty that Cyneas beheld? Fellow citizens, he saw the 
noblest sight that ever existed under heaven, a sight which 
not all your riches or your arts can show ; an assembly 
of two hundred virtuous men, worthy to command in 
Rome, and to govern the world." 

But let pass the distance of time and place, and let us 
see what has happened in our own time and country ; or 
rather let us banish odious descriptions that might offend 
our delicacy, and spare ourselves the pains of repeating 
the same things under different names. It was not for 
nothing that I invoked the Manes of Fabricius ; for what 
have I put into his mouth, that might not have come with 
as much propriety from Louis the Twelfth or Henry the 
Fourth? It is true that in France Socrates would not 
have drunk the hemlock, but he would have drunk of a 
potion infinitely more bitter, of insult, mockery and con 
tempt a hundred times worse than death. 

Thus it is that luxury, profligacy and slavery, have 
been, in all ages, the scourge of the efforts of our pride to 
emerge from that happy state of ignorance, in which the 
wisdom of providence had placed us. That thick veil with 
which it has covered all its operations seems to be a 
sufficient proof that it never designed us for such fruitless 
researches. But is there, indeed, one lesson it has taught 
us, by which we have rightly profited, or which we have 
neglected with impunity? Let men learn for once that 
nature would have preserved them from science, as a 
mother snatches a dangerous weapon from the hands of 
her child. Let them know that all the secrets she hides 
are so many evils from which she protects them, and that 
the very difficulty they find in acquiring knowledge is 
not the least of her bounty towards them. Men are per- 

140 A Discourse on 

verse ; but they would have been far worse, if they had 
had the misfortune to be born learned. 

How humiliating are these reflections to humanity, and 
how mortified by them our pride should be ! What ! it 
will be asked, is uprightness the child of ignorance? Is 
virtue inconsistent with learning? What consequences 
might not be drawn from such suppositions? But to recon 
cile these apparent contradictions, we need only examine 
closely the emptiness and vanity of those pompous titles, 
which are so liberally bestowed on human knowledge, and 
which so blind our judgment. Let us consider, therefore, 
the arts and sciences in themselves. Let us see what must 
result from their advancement, and let us not hesitate to 
admit the truth of all those points on which our arguments 
coincide with the inductions we can make from history. 


AN ancient tradition passed out of Egypt into Greece, 
that some god, who was an enemy to the repose of man 
kind, was the inventor of the sciences. 1 What must the 
Egyptians, among whom the sciences first arose, have 
thought of them? And they beheld, near at hand, the 
sources from which they sprang. In fact, whether we 
turn to the annals of the world, or eke out with philo 
sophical investigations the uncertain chronicles of history, 
we shall not find for human knowledge an origin answer 
ing to the idea we are pleased to entertain of it at present. 
Astronomy was born of superstition, eloquence of ambi 
tion, hatred, falsehood and flattery; geometry of avarice; 
physics of an idle curiosity ; and even moral philosophy of 
human pride. Thus the arts and sciences owe their birth 
to our vices ; we should be less doubtful of their advan 
tages, if they had sprung from our virtues. 

1 It is easy to see the allegory in the fable of Prometheus : and it does 
not appear that the Greeks, who chained him to the Caucasus, had a 
better opinion of him than the Egyptians had of their god Theutus. The 
Satyr, says an ancient fable, the first time he saw a fire, was going to kiss 
arid embrace it ; but Prometheus cried out to him to forbear, or his beard 
would rue it. It burns, says he, everything that touches it. 

The Arts and Sciences 141 

Their evil origin is, indeed, but too plainly reproduced in 
their objects. What would become of the arts, were they 
not cherished by luxury? If men were not unjust, of what 
use were jurisprudence? What would become of history, 
if there were no tyrants, wars, or conspiracies? In a word, 
who would pass his life in barren speculations, if every 
body, attentive only to the obligations of humanity and 
the necessities of nature, spent his whole life in serving 
his country, obliging his friends, and relieving the un 
happy? Are we then made to live and die on the brink 
of that well at the bottom of which Truth lies hid? This 
reflection alone is, in my opinion, enough to discourage 
at first setting out every man who seriously endeavours 
to instruct himself by the study of philosophy. 

What a variety of dangers surrounds us ! What a 
number of wrong paths present themselves in the investiga 
tion of the sciences ! Through how many errors, more 
perilous than truth itself is useful, must Ve not pass to 
arrive at it? The disadvantages we lie under are evident; 
for falsehood is capable of an infinite variety of combina 
tions ; but the truth has only one manner of being. Be 
sides, where is the man who sincerely desires to find it? 
Or even admitting his good will, by what characteristic 
marks is he sure of knowing it? Amid the infinite 
diversity of opinions where is the criterion l by which we 
may certainly judge of it? Again, what is still more 
difficult, should we even be fortunate enough to discover 
it, who among us will know how to make right use of it? 

If our sciences are futile in the objects they propose, 
they are no less dangerous in the effects they produce. 
Being the effect of idleness, they generate idleness in their 
turn ; and an irreparable loss of time is the first prejudice 
which they must necessarily cause to society. To live 
without doing some good is a great evil as well in the 
political as in the moral world ; and hence every useless 
citizen should be regarded as a pernicious person. Tell 
me then, illustrious philosophers, of whom we learn the 

1 The less we know, the more we think we know. The peripatetics 
doubled of nothing. Did not Descartes construct the universe with cubes 
and vortices? And is there in all Europe one single physicist who does 
not boldly explain the inexplicable mysteries of electricity, which will, 
perhaps, be for erer the despair of real philosophers ? 

142 A Discourse on 

ratios in which attraction acts in vacuo ; and in the revolu 
tion of the planets, the relations of spaces traversed in 
equal times ; by whom we are taught what curves have 
conjugate points, points of inflexion, and cusps ; how the 
soul and body correspond, like two clocks, without actual 
communication ; what planets may be inhabited ; and what 
insects reproduce in an extraordinary manner. Answer 
me, I say, you from whom we receive all this sublime 
information, whether we should have been less numerous, 
worse governed, less formidable, less flourishing, or more 
perverse, supposing you had taught us none of all these 
fine things. 

Reconsider therefore the importance of your produc 
tions ; and, since the labours of the most enlightened of 
our learned men and the best of our citizens are of so 
little utility, tell us what we ought to think of that 
numerous herd of obscure writers and useless litterateurs, 
who devour without any return the substance of the State. 

Useless, do I say ? Would God they were ! Society 
would be more peaceful, and morals less corrupt. But 
these vain and futile declaimers go forth on all sides, 
armed with their fatal paradoxes, to sap the foundations 
of our faith, and nullify virtue. They smile contemptu 
ously at such old names as patriotism and religion, and 
consecrate their talents and philosophy to the destruction 
and defamation of all that men hold sacred. Not that 
they bear any real hatred to virtue or dogma ; they are 
the enemies of public opinion alone ; to bring them to the 
foot of the altar, it would be enough to banish them to a 
land of atheists. What extravagancies will not the rage 
of singularity induce men to commit ! 

The waste of time is certainly a great evil ; but still 
greater evils attend upon literature and the arts. One is 
luxury, produced like them by indolence and vanity. 
Luxury is seldom unattended by the arts and sciences ; 
and they are always attended by luxury. I know that 
our philosophy, fertile in paradoxes, pretends, in contra 
diction to the experience of all ages, that luxury contri- 
butes to the splendour of States. But, without insisting 
on the necessity of sumptuary laws, can it be denied that 
rectitude of morals is essential to the duration of empires, 
and that luxury is diametrically opposed to such rectitude ? 

The Arts and Sciences 143 

Let it be admitted that luxury is a certain indication of 
wealth ; that it even serves, if you will, to increase such 
wealth : what conclusion is to be drawn from this paradox, 
so worthy of the times? And what will become of virtue 
if riches are to be acquired at any cost? The politicians 
of the ancient world were always talking of morals and 
virtue ; ours speak of nothing but commerce and money. 
One of them will tell you that in such a country a man is 
worth just as much as he will sell for at Algiers : another, 
pursuing the same mode of calculation, finds that in some 
countries a man is worth nothing, and in others still less 
than nothing ; they value men as they do droves of oxen. 
According to them, a man is worth no more to the State, 
than the amount he consumes ; and thus a Sybarite would 
be worth at least thirty Lacedaemonians. Let these writers 
tell me, however, which of the two republics, Sybaris or 
Sparta, was subdued by a handful of peasants, and which 
became the terror of Asia. 

The monarchy of Cyrus was conquered by thirty thou 
sand men, led by a prince poorer than the meanest of 
Persian Satraps : in like manner the Scythians, the poorest 
of all nations, were able to resist the most powerful 
monarchs of the universe. When two famous republics 
contended for the empire of the world, the one rich and 
the other poor, the former was subdued by the latter. 
The Roman empire in its turn, after having engulfed all 
the riches of the universe, fell a prey to peoples who knew 
not even what riches were. The Franks conquered the 
Gauls, and the Saxons England, without any other 
treasures than their bravery and their poverty. A band 
of poor mountaineers, whose whole cupidity was confined 
to the possession of a few sheep-skins, having first given 
a check to the arrogance of Austria, went on to crush the 
opulent and formidable house of Burgundy, which at that 
time made the potentates of Europe tremble. In short, all 
the power and wisdom of the heir of Charles the Fifth, 
backed by all the treasures of the Indies, broke before a 
few herring-fishers. Let our politicians condescend to lay 
aside their calculations for a moment, to reflect on these 
examples ; let them learn for once that money, though it 
buys everything else, cannot buy morals and citizens. 
What then is the precise point in dispute about luxury? 

144 A Discourse on 

It is to know which is most advantageous to empires, that 
their existence should be brilliant and momentary, or 
virtuous and lasting? I say brilliant, but with what 
lustre ! A taste for ostentation never prevails in the 
same minds as a taste for honesty. No, it is impossible 
that understandings, degraded by a multitude of futile 
cares, should ever rise to what is truly great and noble ; 
even if they had the strength, they would want the 

Every artist loves applause. The praise of his contem 
poraries is the most valuable part of his recompense. 
What then will he do to obtain it, if he have the misfor 
tune to be born among a people, and at a time, when 
learning is in vogue, and the superficiality of youth is in a 
position to lead the fashion ; when men have sacrificed 
their taste to those who tyrannise over their liberty, and 
one sex dare not approve anything but what is propor 
tionate to the pusillanimity of the other; 1 when the 
greatest masterpieces of dramatic poetry are condemned, 
and the noblest of musical productions neglected? This 
is what he will do. He will lower his genius to the level 
of the age, and will rather submit to compose mediocre 
works, that will be admired during his life-time, than 
labour at sublime achievements which will not be admired 
till long after he is dead. Let the famous Voltaire tell us 
how many nervous and masculine beauties he has sacrificed 
to our false delicacy, and how much that is great and 
noble, that spirit of gallantry, which delights in what is 
frivolous and petty, has cost him. 

, It is thus that the dissolution of morals, the necessary 
I consequence of luxury, brings with it in its turn the cor- 
ruption of taste. Further, if by chance there be found 

1 I am far from thinking that the ascendancy which women have obtained 
over men is an evil in itself. It is a present which nature has made them 
for the good of mankind. If better directed, it might be productive of as 
much good, as it is now of evil. We a*e not sufficiently sensible of what 
advantage it would be to society to give a better education to that half of 
our species which governs the other. Men will always be what women 
choose to make them. If you wij-h then that they should be noble and 
viituous, let women be taught what greatness of soul and virtue are. The 
reflections which this subject arouses, and which Plato formerly made, 
deserve to be more fully developed by a pen worthy of following so great a 
master, and defending so great a cause. 

The Arts and Sciences 145 

among men of average ability, an individual with enough 
strength of mind to refuse to comply with the spirit of 
the age, and to debase himself by puerile productions, 
his lot will be hard. He will die in indigence and oblivion. 
This is not so much a prediction, as a fact already con 
firmed by experience ! Yes, Carle and Pierre Vanloo, the 
time is already come when your pencils, destined to 
increase the majesty of our temples by sublime and holy 
images, must fall from your hands, or else be prostituted 
to adorn the panels of a coach with lascivious paintings. 
And you, inimitable Pigal, rival of Phidias and Praxiteles, 
whose chisel the ancients would have employed to carve 
them gods, whose images almost excuse their idolatry in 
our eyes ; even your hand must condescend to fashion the 
belly of an ape, or else remain idle. 

We cannot reflect on the morality of mankind without 
contemplating with pleasure the picture of the simplicity 
which prevailed in the earliest times. This image may be 
justly compared to a beautiful coast, adorned only by the 
hands of nature ; towards which our eyes are constantly 
turned, and which we see receding with regret. While 
men were innocent and virtuous and loved to have the 
gods for witnesses of their actions, they dwelt together in 
the same huts ; but when they became vicious, they grew 
tired of such inconvenient onlookers, and banished them 
to magnificent temples. Finally, they expelled their deities 
even from these, in order to dwell there themselves ; or at 
least the temples of the gods were no longer more magni 
ficent than the palaces of the citizens. This was the height 
of degeneracy ; nor could vice ever be carried to greater 
lengths than when it was seen, supported, as it were, at 
the doors of the great, on columns of marble, and graven 
on Corinthian capitals. 

As the conveniences of life increase, as the arts are 
brought to perfection, and luxury spreads, true courage 
flags, the virtues disappear ; and all this is the effect of 
the sciences and of those arts which are exercised in the 
privacy of men s dwellings. When the Goths ravaged 
Greece, the libraries only escaped the flames owing to 
an opinion that was set on foot among them, that it was 
best to leave the enemy with a possession so calcu 
lated to divert their attention from military exercises, 


A Discourse on 

and keep them engaged in indolent and sedentary 

Charles the Eighth found himself master of Tuscany 
and the kingdom of Naples, almost without drawing 
sword ; and all his court attributed this unexpected success 
to the fact that the princes and nobles of Italy applied 
themselves with greater earnestness to the cultivation of 
their understandings than to active and martial pursuits. 
In fact, says the sensible person who records these 
characteristics, experience plainly tells us, that in military 
matters and all that resemble them application to the 
/ sciences tends rather to make men effeminate and 
cowardly than resolute and vigorous. 

The Romans confessed that military virtue was extin 
guished among them, in proportion as they became con 
noisseurs in the arts of the painter, the engraver and the 
goldsmith, and began to cultivate the fine arts. Indeed, 
as if this famous country was to be for ever an example 
to other nations, the rise of the Medici and the revival of 
letters has once more destroyed, this time perhaps for ever, 
the martial reputation which Italy seemed a few centuries 
ago to have recovered. 

The ancient republics of Greece, with that wisdom which 
was so conspicuous in most of their institutions, forbade 
their citizens to pursue all those inactive and sedentary 
occupations, which by enervating and corrupting the body 
diminish also the vigour of the mind. With what 
courage, in fact, can it be thought that hunger and thirst, 
fatigues, dangers and death, can be faced by men whom 
the smallest want overwhelms and the slightest difficulty 
repels? With what resolution can soldiers support the 
excessive toils of war, when they are entirely unaccus 
tomed to them? With what spirits can they make forced 
marches under officers who have not even the strength 
to travel on horseback? It is no answer to cite the reputed 
valour of all the modern warriors who are so scientifically 
trained. I hear much of their bravery in a day s battle ; but 
I am told nothing of how they support excessive fatigue, 
how they stand the severity of the seasons and the in 
clemency of the weather. A little sunshine or snow, or 
the want of a few superfluities, is enough to cripple and 
destroy one of our finest armies in a few days. Intrepid 

The Arts and Sciences 147 

warriors ! permit me for once to tell you the truth, which 
you seldom hear. Of your bravery I am fully satisfied. I 
have no doubt that you would have triumphed with 
Hannibal at Cannae, and at Trasimene : that you would 
have passed the Rubicon with Caesar, and enabled him to 
enslave his country ; but you never would have been able 
to cross the Alps with the former, or with the latter to 
subdue your own ancestors, the Gauls. 

A war does not always depend on the events of battle : 
there is in generalship an art superior to that of gaining 
victories. A man may behave with great intrepidity under 
fire, and yet be a very bad officer. Even in the common 
soldier, a little more strength and vigour would perhaps 
be more useful than so much courage, which after all is 
no protection from death. And what does it matter to 
the State whether its troops perish by cold and fever, or 
by the sword of the enemy? 

If the cultivation of the sciences is prejudicial to military 
qualities, it is still more so to moral qualities. Even from 
our infancy an absurd system of education serves to adorn 
our wit and corrupt our judgment. We see, on every 
side, huge institutions, where our youth are educated at 
great expense, and instructed in everything but their 
duty. Your children will be ignorant of their own 
language, when they can talk others which are not 
spoken anywhere. They will be able to compose verses 
which they can hardly understand ; and, without being 
capable of distinguishing truth from error, they will possess 
the art of making them unrecognisable by specious argu 
ments. But magnanimity, equity, temperance, humanity 
and courage will be words of which they know not the 
meaning. The dear name of country will never strike on 
their ears; and if they ever hear speak of God, 1 it will 
be less to fear, than to be frightened of, Him. I would 
as soon, said a wise man, that my pupil had spent his time 
in the tennis court as in this manner ; for there his body 
at least would have got exercise. 

I well know that children ought to be kept employed, 
and that idleness is for them the danger most to be feared. 
But what should they be taught? This is undoubtedly an 

1 Pens^es philosophiques (Diderot). 


A Discourse on 

important question. Let them be taught what they are to 
practise when they come to be men ; 1 not what they ought 
to forget. 

Our gardens are adorned with statues and our galleries 
with pictures. What would you imagine these master 
pieces of art, thus exhibited to public admiration, repre 
sent? The great men, who have defended their country, 
or the still greater men who have enriched it by their 
virtues? Far from it. They are the images of every per 
version of heart and mind, carefully selected from ancient 
mythology, and presented to the early curiosity of our 
children, doubtless that they may have before their eyes 
the representations of vicious actions, even before they are 
able to read. 

1 Such was the education of the Spartans with regard to one of the 
greatest of their kings. It is well worthy of notice, says Montaigne, that 
the excellent institutions of Lycurgus, which were in truth miraculously 
perfect, paid as much attention to the bringing up of youth as if this were 
their principal object, and yet, at the very seat of the Muses, they make so 
little mention of learning that it seems as if their generous-spirited youth 
disdained every other restraint, and required, instead of masters of the 
sciences, instructors in valour, prudence and justice alone. 

Let us hear next what the same writer says of the ancient Persians. 
Plato, says he, relates that the heir to the throne was thus brought up. 
At his birth he was committed, not to the care of women, but to eunuchs 
in the highest authority and near the person of the king, on account of 
their virtue. These undertook to render his body beautiful and healthy. 
At seven years of age they taught him to ride and go hunting. At fourteen 
he was placed in the hands of four, the wisest, the most just, the most 
temperate and the bravest persons in the kingdom. The first instructed 
him in religion, the second taught him to adhere inviolably to truth, the 
third to conquer his passions, and the fourth to be afraid of nothing. All, 
I may add, taught him to be a good man ; but not one taught him to be 

Astyages, in Xenophon, desires Cyrus to give him an account of his last 
lesson. It was this, answered Cyrus, one of the big boys of the school 
having a small coat, gave it to a little boy and took away from him his coat, 
which was larger. Our master having appointed me arbiter in the dispute, 
I ordered that matters should stand as they were, as each boy seemed to 
be better suited than before. The master, however, remonstrated with 
me, saying that I considered only convenience, whereas justice ought to 
have been the first concern, and justice teaches that no one should suffer 
forcible interference with what belongs to him. He added that he was 
punished for his wrong decision, just as boys are punished in our country 
schools when they forget the first aorist of rvimc. My tutor must make 
me a fine harangue, in genere demonstrative, before he will persuade me 
that his school is as good as this. 

The Arts and Sciences 149 

Whence arise all those abuses, unless it be from that i 
fatal inequality introduced among men by the difference ! 
of talents and the cheapening- of virtue? This is the most 
evident effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous 
of all their consequences. The question is no longer \ 
whether a man is honest, but whether he is clever. We 
do not ask whether a book is useful, but whether it is well- 
written. Rewards are lavished on wit and ingenuity, 
while virtue is left unhonoured. There are a thousand 
prizes for fine discourses, and none for good actions. I 
should be glad, however, to know whether the honour 
attaching to the best discourse that ever wins the prize 
in this Academy is comparable with the merit of having 
founded the prize. 

A wise man does not go in chase of fortune ; but he is 
by no means insensible to glory, and when he sees it so 
ill distributed, his virtue, which might have been animated 
by a little emulation, and turned to the advantage of 
society, droops and dies away in obscurity and indigence. 
It is for this reason that the agreeable arts must in time 
everywhere be preferred to the useful; and this truth has 
been but too much confirmed since the revival of the arts 
and sciences. We have physicists, geometricians, chem 
ists, astronomers, poets, musicians, and painters in plenty ; 
but we have no longer a citizen among us ; or if there be 
found a few scattered over our abandoned countryside, 
they are left to perish there unnoticed and neglected. 
Such is the condition to which we are reduced, and such 
are our feelings towards those who give us our daily 
bread, and our children milk. 

I confess, however, that the evil is not so great as it 
might have become. The eternal providence, in placing 
salutary simples beside noxious plants, and making 
poisonous animals contain their own antidote, has taught 
the sovereigns of the earth, who are its ministers, to 
imitate its wisdom. It is by following this example that 
the truly great monarch, to whose glory every age will 
add new lustre, drew from the very bosom of the arts and 
sciences, the very fountains of a thousand lapses from 
rectitude, those famous societies, which, while they are 
depositaries of the dangerous trust of human knowledge, 
are yet the sacred guardians of morals, by the attention 

150 A Discourse on 

they pay to their maintenance among themselves in all 
their purity, and by the demands which they make on 
every member whom they admit. 

These wise institutions, confirmed by his august suc 
cessor and imitated by all the kings of Europe, will serve 
at least to restrain men of letters, who, all aspiring to the 
honour of being admitted into these Academies, will keep 
watch over themselves, and endeavour to make themselves 
worthy of such honour by useful performances and irre 
proachable morals. Those Academies also, which, in pro 
posing prizes for literary merit, make choice of such sub 
jects as are calculated to arouse the love of virtue in the 
hearts of citizens, prove that it prevails in themselves, and 
must give men the rare and real pleasure of finding 
learned societies devoting themselves to the enlightenment 
of mankind, not only by agreeable exercises of the intellect, 
but also by useful instructions. 

An objection which may be made is, in fact, only an 
additional proof of my argument. So much precaution 
proves but too evidently the need for it. We never seek 
remedies for evils that do not exist. Why, indeed, must 
these bear all the marks of ordinary remedies, on account 
of their inefficacy? The numerous establishments in 
favour of the learned are only adapted to make men 
mistake the objects of the sciences, and turn men s atten 
tion to the cultivation of them. One would be inclined 
to think, from the precautions everywhere taken, that we 
are overstocked with husbandmen, and are afraid of a 
shortage of philosophers. I will not venture here to enter 
into a comparison between agriculture and philosophy, 
as they would not bear it. I shall only ask What is 
philosophy? What is contained in the writings of the 
most celebrated philosophers? What are the lessons of 
these friends of wisdom. To hear them, should we not 
take them for so many mountebanks, exhibiting them 
selves in public, and crying out, Here, Here, come to me, 
I am the only true doctor? One of them teaches that 
there is no such thing as matter, but that everything exists 
only in representation. Another declares that there is no 
other substance than matter, and no other God than the 
world itself. A third tells you that there are no such 
things as virtue and vice, and that moral good and evil 

The Arts and Sciences 151 

are chimeras ; while a fourth informs you that men are 
only beasts of prey, and may conscientiously devour one 
another. Why, my great philosophers, do you not reserve 
these wise and profitable lessons for your friends and 
children? You would soon reap the benefit of them, nor 
should we be under any apprehension of our own becoming 
your disciples. 

Such are the wonderful men, whom their contemporaries 
held in the highest esteem during their lives, and to whom 
immortality has been attributed since their decease. Such 
arc the wise maxims we have received from them, and 
which are transmitted, from age to age, to our descendants. 
Paganism, though given over to all the extravagances of 
human reason, has left nothing to compare with the shame 
ful monuments which have been prepared by the art of 
printing, during the reign of the gospel. The impious 
writings of Leucippus and Diagoras perished with their 
authors. The world, in their days, was ignorant of the 
art of immortalising the errors and extravagancies of the 
human mind. But thanks to the art of printing 1 and the 
use we make of it, the pernicious reflections of Hobbes 
and Spinoza will last for ever. Go, famous writings, of 
which the ignorance and rusticity of our forefathers would 
have been incapable. Go to our descendants, along with 
those still more pernicious works which reek of the cor 
rupted manners of the present age ! Let them together 
convey to posterity a faithful history of the progress and 

1 If we consider the frightful disorders which printing has already caused 
in Europe, and judge of the future by the progress of its evils from day to 
day, it is easy to foresee that sovereigns will hereafter take as much pains 
to banish this dreadful art from their dominions, as they ever took to 
encourage it. The Sultan Achmet, yielding to the importunities of certain 
pretenders to taste, -consented to have a press erected at Constantinople ; 
but it was hardly set to work before they were obliged to destroy it, and 
throw the plant into a well. 

It is related that the Caliph Omar, being asked what should be done with 
the library at Alexandria, answered in these words. " If the books in the 
library contain anything contrary to the Alcoran, they are evil and ought 
to be burnt; if they contain only what the Alcoran teaches, they are 
superfluous." This reasoning has been cited by our men of letters as the 
height of absurdity ; but if Gregory the Great had been in the place of 
Omar, and the Gospel in the place of the Alcoran, the library would 
still have been burnt, and it would have been perhaps the finest action of 
his life. 

152 A Discourse on 

advantages of our arts and sciences. If they are read, 
they will leave not a doubt about the question we are now 
discussing, and unless mankind should then be still more 
foolish than we, they will lift up their hands to Heaven 
and exclaim in bitterness of heart : "Almighty God ! thou 
who boldest in Thy hand the minds of men, deliver us 
from the fatal arts and sciences of our forefathers ; give us 
back ignorance, innocence and poverty, which alone can 
make us happy arid are precious in Thy sight." 

But if the progress of the arts and sciences has added 
nothing to our real happiness ; if it has corrupted our 
morals, and if that corruption has vitiated our taste, what 
are we to think of the herd of text-book authors, who 
have removed those impediments which nature purposely 
laid in the way to the Temple of the Muses, in order to 
guard its approach and try the powers of those who might 
be tempted to seek knowledge? What are we to think of 
those compilers who have indiscreetly broken open the. 
door of the sciences, and introduced into their sanctuary 
a populace unworthy to approach it, when it was greatly 
to be wished that all who should be found incapable of 
making a considerable progress in the career of learning 
should have been repulsed at the entrance, and thereby 
cast upon those arts which are useful to society. A man 
who will be all his life a bad versifier, or a third-rate 
geometrician, might have made nevertheless an excellent 
clothier. Those whom nature intended for her disciples 
have not needed masters. Bacon, Descartes and Newton, 
those teachers of mankind, had themselves no teachers. 
What guide indeed could have taken them so far as their 
sublime genius directed them? Ordinary masters would 
only have cramped their intelligence, by confining it within 
the narrow limits of their own capacity. It was from the 
obstacles they met with at first, that they learned to exert 
themselves, and bestirred themselves to traverse the vast 
field which they covered. If it be proper to allow some 
men to apply themselves to the study of the arts and 
sciences, it is only those who feel themselves able to walk 
; alone in their footsteps and to outstrip them. It belongs 
I only to these few to raise monuments to the glory of the 
.human understanding. But if we are desirous that 
nothing should be above their genius, nothing should be 

The Arts and Sciences 153 

eyond their hopes. This is the only encouragement they 
equire. The soul insensibly adapts itself to the objects 
n which it is employed, and thus it is that great occasions 
reduce great men. The greatest orator in the world was 
Consul of Rome, and perhaps the greatest of philosophers 
,ord Chancellor of England. Can it be conceived that, 
f the former had only been a professor at some University, 
and the latter a pensioner of some Academy, their works 
vould not have suffered from their situation. Let not 
winces disdain to admit into their councils those who are 
most capable of giving them good advice. Let them 
enounce the old prejudice, which was invented by the 
>ride of the great, that the art of governing mankind is 
more difficult than that of instructing them ; as if it was 
asier to induce men to do good voluntarily, than to compel 
hem to it by force. Let the learned of the first rank 
ind an honourable refuge in their courts ; let them there - 
enjoy the only recompense worthy of them, that of pro 
moting by their influence the happiness of the peoples 
hey have enlightened by their wisdom. It is by this 
means only that we are likely to see what virtue, science 
and authority can do, when animated by the noblest 
emulation, and working unanimously for the happiness 
of mankind. 

But so long as power alone is on one side, and know- 
edge and understanding alone on the other, the learned 
will seldom make great objects their study, princes will 
still more rarely do great actions, and the peoples will 
:ontinue to be, as they are, mean, corrupt and miserable. 

As for us, ordinary men, on whom Heaven has not been 
alcased to bestow such great talents ; as we are not 
destined to reap such glory, let us remain in our obscurity. 
Let us not covet a reputation we should never attain, and 
which, in the present state of things, would never make 
up to us for the trouble it would have cost us, even if 
we were fully qualified to obtain it. Why should we build 
our happiness on the opinions of others, when we can 
find it in our own hearts? Let us leave to others the task 
of instructing mankind in their duty, and confine ourselves 
to the discharge of our own. We have no occasion for 
greater knowledge than this. 

Virtue ! sublime science of simple minds, are such 

154 A Discourse on Arts and Sciences 

industry and preparation needed if we are to knoxv you? 
Are not your principles graven on every heart? Need 
we do more, to learn your laws, than examine ourselves, 
and listen to the voice of conscience, when the passions 
are silent? 

This is the true philosophy, with which we must learn 
to be content, without envying" the fame of those cele 
brated men, whose names are immortal in the republic of 
letters. Let us, instead of envying- them, endeavour to 
make, between them and us, that honourable distinction 
which was formerly seen to exist between two great 
peoples, that the one knew how to speak, and the other 
how to act, aright. 






Non in depravatis, sed in his qucs bene secundum 

se habent, considerandum est quid sit naturale. 

Aristotle, Politics, Bk. i, ch. 2. 

[We should consider what is natural not in things which are depraved 
but in those which arc rightly ordered according to nature.] 




A Discourse on 

well known to one another, neither the secret machinations 
of vice, nor the modesty of virtue should be able to escape 
the notice and judgment of the public ; and in which the 
pleasant custom of seeing- and knowing one another should 
make the love of country rather a love of the citizens than 
of its soil. 

I should have wished to be born in a country in which 
the interest of the Sovereign and that of the people must 
be single and identical ; to the end that all the movements 
of the machine might tend always to the general happi 
ness. And as this could not be the case, unless the 
Sovereign and the people were one and the same person, 
J it follows that I should have wished to be born under a 
democratic government, wisely tempered. 

I should have wished la-ii^eanddie-ffse : that is, so far 
subjecTTo the laws that neitheFT, nor anybody else, should 
be able to cast off their honourable yoke : the easy and 
salutary yoke which the haughtiest necks bear with the 
greater docility, as they are made to bear no other. 

I should have wished then that no one within the State 
should be able to say he was above the law ; and that no 
one without should be able to dictate so that the State 
should be obliged to recognise his authority. For, be 
the constitution of a government what it may, if there be 
within its jurisdiction a single man who is not subject to 
the law, all the rest are necessarily at his discretion. And 
if there be a national ruler within, and a foreign ruler 
without, however they may divide their authority, it is 
impossible that both should be duly obeyed, or that the 
State should be well governed. 
"~~- I should not have chosen to live in a republic of recent 
institution, however excellent its laws; for fear the govern 
ment, being perhaps otherwise framed than the circum 
stances of the moment might require, might disagree with 
the new citizens, or they with it, and the State run the 
risk of overthrow and destruction almost as soon as it 
came into being. For it is with liberty as it is with those 
solid and succulent foods, or with those generous wines 
which are well adapted to nourish and fortify robusi 
constitutions that are used to them, but ruin and intoxi 
cate weak and delicate constitutions to which they art 
not suited. Peoples once accustomed to masters are not 

The Origin of Inequality 159 

n a condition to do without them. If they attempt to 

shake off the yoke, they still more estrange themselves 
rom freedom, as, by mistaking tor it an unbridled license 
;o which it is diametrically opposed, they nearly always 

manage, by their revolutions, to hand themselves over to 

seducers, who only make their chains heavier than before. 

The Roman people itself, a model for all free peoples, 
,vas wholly incapable of governing itself when it escaped 
rom the oppression of the Tarquins. Debased by slavery, 

and the ignominious tasks which had been imposed upon 
t, it was at first no better than a stupid mob, which it was 

necessary to control and govern with the greatest wisdom ; 
n order that, being accustomed by degrees to breathe 
:he health-giving air of liberty, minds which had been 

enervated or rather brutalised under tyranny, might grad- 
lally acquire that severity of morals and spirit of fortitude 

which made it at length the people of all most worthy. 

of respect. I should, then, have sought out for my country 
>ome peaceful and happy Republic, of an antiquity that 
ost itself, as it were, in the night of time : which had 

experienced only such shocks as served to manifest and 
trengthen the courage and patriotism of its subjects ; and 

whose citizens, long accustomed to a wise independence,. 

were not only free, but worthy to be so. 

I should have wished to choose myself a country,, 

diverted, by a fortunate impotence, from the brutal love of 

conquest, and secured, by a still more fortunate situation-, 
rom the fear of becoming itself the conquest of other 

States : a free city situated between several nations, none 

of which should have any interest in attacking it, while 

each had an interest in preventing it from being attacked 
jy the others; in short, a Republic which should have 
lothing to tempt the ambition of its neighbours, but might 

reasonably depend on their assistance in case of need. It 
ollows that a republican State so happily situated could 
lave nothing to fear but from itself; and that, if its 

members trained themselves to the use of arms, it would 
>e rather to keep alive that military ardour and courageous 
spirit which are so proper among free-men, and tend to 
ceep up their taste for liberty, than from the necessity of 
providing for their defence. 
I should have sought a country, in which the> right ofi 

160 A Discourse on 

legislation was vested in all the citizens ; for who can 
judge better than they of the conditions under which they 
had best dwell together in the same society? Not that I 
should have approved of Plebiscita, like those among the 
Romans ; in which the rulers in the State, and those most 
interested in its preservation, were excluded from the 
deliberations on which in many cases its security depended ; 
and in which, by the most absurd inconsistency, the 
magistrates were deprived of rights which the meanest 
citizens enjoyed. 

On the contrary, I should have desired that, in order 
to prevent self-interested and ill-conceived projects, and 
all such dangerous innovations as finally ruined the 
Athenians, each man should not be at liberty to propose 
new laws at pleasure ; but that this right should belong 
exclusively .to^Ttie^rnagistrates ; and that even they should 
use it with so much caution, the people, on its side, be 
so reserved in giving its consent to such laws, and the 
promulgation of them be attended with so much solemnity, 
that before the constitution could be upset by them, there 
might be time enough for all to be convinced, that it is 
above all the great antiquity of the laws which makes 
them sacred and venerable, that men soon learn to despise 
laws which they see daily altered, and that States, b} 
accustoming themselves to neglect their ancient customs 
under the pretext of improvement, often introduce greater 
evils than those they endeavour to remove. 

I should have particularly avoided, as necessarily ill- 
governed, a Republic in which the people, imagining them 
selves in a position to do without magistrates, or at least 
to leave them with only a precarious authority, should 
imprudently have kept for themselves the administration 
of civil affairs and the execution of their own laws. Such 
must have been the rude constitution of primitive govern 
ments, directly emerging from a state of nature ; and this 
was another of the vices that contributed to the downfall 
of the Republic of Athens. 

But I should have chosen a community in which the 
individuals, content with sanctioning their laws, and decid 
ing the most important public affairs in general assembly 
and on the motion of the rulers, had established honoured 
tribunals, carefully distinguished the several departments, 

The Origin of Inequality 161 

and elected year by year some of the most capable and 
upright of their fellow-citizens to administer justice and 
govern the State ; a community, in short, in which the 
virtue of the magistrates thus bearing witness to the 
wisdom of the people, each class reciprocally did the other 
honour. If in such a case any fatal misunderstandings 
arose to disturb the public peace, even these intervals of 
blindness and error would bear the marks of moderation, 
mutual esteem, and a common respect for the laws ; 
which are sure signs and pledges of a reconciliation as 
lasting as sincere. Such are the advantages, most honour 
able, magnificent and sovereign lords, which I should 
have sought in the country in which I should have chosen 
to be born. And if providence had added to all these a 
delightful situation, a temperate climate, a fertile soil, 
and the most beautiful countryside under Heaven, I should 
have desired only, to complete my felicity, the peaceful 
enjoyment of all these blessings, in the bosom of this happy 
country ; to live at peace in the sweet society of my fellow- 
citizens, and practising towards them, from their own 
example, the duties of friendship, humanity, and every 
other virtue, to leave behind me the honourable memory 
of a good man, and an upright and virtuous patriot. 

But, if less fortunate or too late grown wise, I had seen 
myself reduced to end an infirm and languishing life in 
other climates, vainly regretting that peaceful repose which 
I had forfeited in the imprudence of youth, I should at 
least have entertained the same feelings in my heart, 
though denied the opportunity of making use of them in 
my native country. Filled with a tender and disinterested 
love for my distant fellow-citizens, I should have addressed 
them from my heart, much in the following terms. 

" My dear fellow-citizens, or rather my brothers, since 
the ties of blood, as well as the laws, unite almost all of 
us, it gives me pleasure that I cannot think of you, with 
out thinking, at the same time, of all the blessings you 
enjoy, and of which none of you, perhaps, more deeply 
feels the value than I who have lost them. The more I 
reflect on your civil and political condition, the less can 
I conceive that the nature of human affairs could admit 
of a better. In all other governments, when there is a 
question of ensuring the greatest good of the State, 

o 660 

1 62 A Discourse on 

nothing gets beyond projects and ideas, or at best bare 
possibilities. But as for you, your happiness is complete, 
and you have nothing to do but enjoy it ; you require 
nothing more to be made perfectly happy, than to know- 
how to be satisfied with being so. Your sovereignty, 
acquired or recovered by the sword, and maintained for 
two centuries past by your valour and wisdom, is at length 
fully and universally acknowledged. Your boundaries are 
fixed, your rights confirmed and your repose secured by 
honourable treaties. Your constitution is excellent, being 
not only dictated by the profoundest wisdom, but guaran 
teed by great and friendly powers. Your State enjoys 
perfect tranquillity ; you have neither wars nor conquerors 
to fear ; you have no other master than the wise laws you 
have yourselves made ; and these are administered by up 
right magistrates of your own choosing. You are neither 
so wealthy as to be enervated by effeminacy, and thence 
to lose, in the pursuit of frivolous pleasures, the taste for 
real happiness and solid virtue ; nor poor enough to require 
more assistance from abroad than your own industry is 
sufficient to procure you. In the meantime the precious 
privilege of liberty, which in great nations is maintained 
only by submission to the most exorbitant impositions, 
costs you hardly anything for its preservation. 

May a Republic, so wisely and happily constituted, last 
for ever, for an example to other nations, and for the 
felicity of its own citizens ! This is the only prayer you 
have left to make, the only precaution that remains to be 
taken. It depends, for the future, on yourselves alone 
(not to make you happy, for your ancestors have saved 
you that trouble), but to render that happiness lasting, 
by your wisdom in its enjoyment. It is on your constant 
union, your obedience to the laws, and your respect for 
their ministers, that your preservation depends. If there 
remains among you the smallest trace of bitterness or 
distrust, hasten to destroy it, as an accursed leaven which 
sooner or later must bring misfortune and ruin on the 
State. I conjure you all to look into your hearts, and to 
hearken to the secret voice of conscience. Is there any 
among you who can find, throughout the universe, a more 
upright, more enlightened and more honourable body than 
your magistracy? Do not all its members set you an 

The Origin of Inequality 163 

example of moderation, of simplicity of manners, of respect 
for the laws, and of the most sincere harmony? Place, 
therefore, without reserve, in such wise superiors, that 
salutary confidence which reason ever owes to virtue. 
Consider that they are your own choice, that they justify 
that choice, and that the honours due to those whom you 
have dignified are necessarily yours by reflexion. Not 
one of you is so ignorant as not to know that, when the 
laws lose their force and those who defend them their 
authority, security and liberty are universally impossible. 
Why, therefore, should you hesitate to do that cheerfully 
and with just confidence which you would all along have 
been bound to do by your trup interest, your duty and 
reason itself? 

Let not a culpable and pernicious indifference to the 
maintenance of the constitution ever induce you to neg 
lect, in case of need, the prudent advice of the most 
enlightened and zealous of your fellow-citizens ; but let 
equity, moderation and firmness of resolution continue to 
regulate all your proceedings, and to exhibit you to the 
whole universe as the example of a valiant and modest 
people, jealous equally of their honour and of their liberty. 
Beware particularly, as the last piece of advice I shall 
give you, of sinister constructions and venomous rumours, 
the secret motives of which are often more dangerous 
than the actions at which they are levelled. A whole 
house will be awake and take the first alarm given by 
a good and trusty watch-dog, who barks only at the 
approach of thieves ; but we hate the importunity of those 
noisy curs, which are perpetually disturbing the public 
repose, and whose continual ill-timed warnings prevent our 
attending to them, when they may perhaps be necessary." 

And you, most honourable and magnificent lords, the 
worthy and revered magistrates of a free people, permit 
me to offer you in particular my duty and homage. If 
there is in the world a station capable of conferring honour 
on those who fill it, it is undoubtedly that which virtue and 
talents combine to bestow, that of which you have made 
yourselves worthy, and to which you have been promoted 
by your fellow-citizens. Their worth adds a new lustre to 
your own ; while, as you have been chosen, by men capable 
of governing others, to govern themselves, I cannot but 


A Discourse on 

hold you as much superior to all other magistrates, as a 
free people, and particularly that over which you have 
the honour to preside, is by its wisdom and its reason 
superior to the populace of other States. 

Be it permitted me to cite an example of which there- 
ought to have existed better records, and one which will 
be ever near to my heart. I cannot recall to mind, without 
the sweetest emotions, the memory of that virtuous citizen, 
to whom I owe my being, and by whom I was often 
instructed, in my infancy, in the respect which is due to 
you. I see him still, living by the work of his hands, and 
feeding his soul on the sublimest truths. I see the works 
of Tacitus, Plutarch and Grotius, lying before him in the 
midst of the tools of his trade. At his side stands his dear 
son, receiving, alas with too little profit, the tender instruc 
tions of the best of fathers. But, if the follies of youth 
made me for a while forget his wise lessons, I have at 
length the happiness to be conscious that, whatever pro 
pensity one may have to vice, it is not easy for an 
education, with which love has mingled, to be entirely 
thrown away. 

Such, my most honourable and magnificent lords, are 
the citizens, and even the common inhabitants of the State 
which you govern ; such are those intelligent and sensible 
men, of whom, under the name of workmen and the people, 
it is usual, in other nations, to have a low and false 
opinion. My father, I own with pleasure, was in no way 
distinguished among his fellow-citizens. He was only 
such as they all are ; and yet, such as he was, there is no 
country, in which his acquaintance would not have been 
coveted, and cultivated even with advantage by men of 
the highest character. It would not become me, nor is it, 
thank Heaven, at all necessary for me to remind you of 
the regard which such men have a right to expect of their 
magistrates, to whom they are equal both by education and 
by the rights of nature and birth, and inferior only, by their 
own will, by that preference which they owe to your merit, 
and, for giving you, can claim some sort of acknowledg 
ment on your side. It is with a lively satisfaction I under 
stand that the greatest candour and condescension attend, 
in all your behaviour towards them, on that gravity which 
becomes the ministers of the law ; and that vou so well 

The Origin of Inequality 165 

repay them, by your esteem and attention, the respect and 
obedience which they owe to you. This conduct is not 
only just but prudent; as it happily tends to obliterate the 
memory of many unhappy events, which ought to be buried 
in eternal oblivion. It is also so much the more judicious, 
as it tends to make this generous and equitable people 
find a pleasure in their duty; to make them naturally 
love to do you honour, and to cause those who are 
the most zealous in the maintenance of their own rights 
to be at the same time the most disposed to respect 

It ought not to be thought surprising that the rulers of 
a civil society should have the welfare and glory of their 
communities at heart : but it is uncommonly fortunate for 
the peace of men, when those persons who look upon 
themselves as the magistrates, or rather the masters of 
a more holy and sublime country, show some love for the 
earthly country which maintains them. I am happy in 
having it in my power to make so singular an exception in 
our favour, and to be able to rank, among its best citizens, 
those zealous depositaries of the sacred articles of faith 
established by the laws, those venerable shepherds of 
souls whose powerful and captivating eloquence are so 
much the better calculated to bear to men s hearts the 
maxims of the gospel, as they are themselves the first to 
put them into practice. All the world knows of the great 
success with which the art of the pulpit is cultivated at 
Geneva ; but men are so used to hearing divines preach 
one thing and practise another, that few have a chance 
of knowing how far the spirit of Christianity, holiness of 
manners, severity towards themselves and indulgence 
towards their neighbours, prevail throughout the whole 
body of our ministers. It is, perhaps, given to the city 
of Geneva alone, to produce the edifying example of so 
perfect a union between its clergy and men of letters. It 
is in great measure on their wisdom, their known modera 
tion, and their zeal for the prosperity of the State that 
I build my hopes of its perpetual tranquillity. At the 
same time, I notice, with a pleasure mingled with surprise 
and veneration, how much they detest the frightful maxims 
of those accursed and barbarous men, of whom history 
furnishes us with more than one example ; who, in order 

1 66 A Discourse on 

to support the pretended rights of God, that is to say 
their own interests, have been so much the less greedy of 
human blood, as they were more hopeful their own in 
particular would be always respected. 

I must not forget that precious half of the Republic, 
which makes the happiness of the other ; and whose sweet 
ness and prudence preserve its tranquillity and virtue. 
Amiable and virtuous daughters of Geneva, it will be 
always the lot of your sex to govern ours. Happy are we, 
so long as your chaste influence, solely exercised within the 
limits of conjugal union, is exerted only for the glory of 
the State and the happiness of the public. It was thus the 
female sex commanded at Sparta ; and thus you deserve to 
command at Geneva. What man can be such a barbarian 
as to resist the voice of honour and reason, coming from 
the lips of an affectionate wife? Who would not despise 
the vanities of luxury, on beholding the simple and modest 
attire which, from the lustre it derives from you, seems 
the most favourable to beauty? It is your task to perpet 
uate, by your insinuating influence and your innocent and 
amiable rule, a respect for the laws of the State, and 
harmony among the citizens. It is yours to reunite divided 
families by happy marriages ; and, above all things, to 
correct, by the persuasive sweetness of your lessons and 
the modest graces of your conversation, those extrava 
gancies which our young people pick up in other countries, 
whence, instead of many useful things by which they might 
profit, they bring home hardly anything, besides a puerile 
air and a ridiculous manner, acquired among loose women, 
but an admiration for I know not what so-called grandeur, 
and paltry recompenses for being slaves, which can never 
come near the real greatness of liberty. Continue, there 
fore, always to be what you are, the chaste guardians of 
our morals, and the sweet security for our peace, exerting 
on every occasion the privileges of the heart and of nature, 
in the interests of duty and virtue. 

I flatter myself that I shall never be proved to have been 
mistaken, in building on such a foundation my hopes of 
the general happiness of the citizens and the glory of the 
Republic. It must be confessed, however, that with all 
these advantages, it will not shine with that lustre, by 
which the eyes of most men are dazzled ; a puerile and 

The Origin of Inequality 167 

fatal taste for which is the most mortal enemy of happiness 
and liberty. 

Let our dissolute youth seek elsewhere light pleasures 
and long repentances. Let our pretenders to taste admire 
elsewhere the grandeur of palaces, the beauty of equipages, 
sumptuous furniture, the pomp of public entertainments, 
and all the refinements of luxury and effeminacy. Geneva 
boasts nothing but men ; such a sight has nevertheless a 
value of its own, and those who have a taste for it are 
well worth the admirers of all the rest. 

Deign, most honourable, magnificent and sovereign 
lords, to receive, and with equal goodness, this respectful 
testimony of the interest I take in your common pros 
perity. And, if I have been so unhappy as to be guilty 
of any indiscreet transport in this glowing effusion of my 
heart, I beseech you to pardon me, and to attribute it to 
the tender affection of a true patriot, and to the ardent and 
legitimate zeal of a man, who can imagine for himself no 
greater felicity than to see you happy. 

Most honourable, magnificent and sovereign lords, I 
am, with the most profound respect, 

Your most humble and obedient servant and fellow- 


funt T2, 1734. 


OF all human sciences the most useful and most imper 
fect appears to me to be that of mankind : and I will 
venture to say, the single inscription on the Temple of 
Delphi contained a precept more difficult and more import 
ant than is to be found in all the huge volumes that 
moralists have ever written. I consider the subject of the 
following discourse as one of the most interesting ques 
tions philosophy can propose, and unhappily for us, one of 
the most thorny that philosophers can have to solve. For 
how shall we know the source of inequality between men, 
if we do not begin by knowing mankind? And how shall 
man hope to see himself as nature made him, across all 
the changes which the succession of place and time must 
have produced in his original constitution? How can he 
distinguish what is fundamental in his nature from the 
changes and additions which his circumstances and the 
advances he has made have introduced to modify his 
primitive condition? Like the statue of Glaucus, which 
was so disfigured by time, seas and tempests, that it 
looked more like a wild beast than a god, the human soul, 
altered in society by a thousand causes perpetually recur-/ 
ring, by the acquisition of a multitude of truths and errors, 
-^ by the changes happening to the constitution of the body, 
*f\\ and by the continual jarring of the passions, has, so to 
speak, changed in appearance, so as to be hardly recog 
nisable. Instead of a being, acting constantly from fixed 
and invariable principles, instead of that celestial and 
"majestic simplicity, impressed on it by its divine Author, 
- we find in it only the frightful contrast of passion mis 
taking itself for reason, and of understanding grown 
-> delirious. 

.as -, It is still more cruel that, as every advance made by the 

; human species removes it still farther from its primitive 

state, the more discoveries we make, the more we deprive 


The Origin of Inequality 169 

ourselves of the means of making the most important of 
all. Thus it is, in one sense, by our very study of man, 
that the knowledge of him is put out of our power. 

It is easy to perceive that it is in these successive 
changes in the constitution of man that we must look for 
the origin of those differences which now distinguish men, 
who, it is allowed, are as equal among themselves as 
were tht animals of every kind, before physical causes 
had introduced those varieties which are now observable 
among some of them. 

It is, in fact, not to be conceived that these primary 
changes, however they may have arisen, could have 
altered, all at once and in the same manner, every indi 
vidual of the species. It is natural to think that, while 
the condition of some of them grew better or worse, and 
they were acquiring various good or bad qualities not 
inherent in their nature, there were others who continued 
a longer time in their original condition. Such was doubt 
less the first source of the inequality of mankind, which 
it is much easier to point out thus in general terms, than 
to assign with precision to its actual causes. 

Let not my readers therefore imagine that I flatter my 
self with having seen what it appears to me so difficult to 
discover. I have here entered upon certain arguments, 
and risked some conjectures, less in the hope of solving 
the difficulty, than with a view to throwing some light 
upon it, and reducing the question to its proper form. 
Others may easily proceed farther on the same road, and 
yet no one find it very easy to get to the end. For it is 
by no means a light undertaking to distinguish properly 
between what is original and what is artificial in the actual 
nature of man, or to form a true idea of a state which no 
longer exists, perhaps never did exist, and probably never 
will exist ; and of which, it is, nevertheless, necessary to 
have true ideas, in order to form a proper judgment of 
our present state. It requires, indeed, more philosophy 
than can be imagined to enable any one to determine 
exactly what precautions he ought to take, in order to 
make solid observations on this subject ; and it appears 
to me that a good solution of the following problem would 
be not unworthy of the Aristotles and Plinys of the pre 
sent age. What experiments would have to be made, 

170 A Discourse on 

to discover the natural wan? And how are those experi 
ments to be made in a state of society? 

So far am I from undertaking to solve this problem, that 
I think I have sufficiently considered the subject, to venture 
to declare beforehand that our greatest philosophers would 
not be too good to direct such experiments, and our most 
powerful sovereigns to make them. Such a combination 
we have very little reason to expect, especially attended 
with the perseverance, or rather succession of intelligent 
and good-will necessary on both sides to success. 

These investigations, which are so difficult to make 
and have been hitherto so little thought of, are, neverthe 
less, the only means that remain of obviating a multi 
tude of difficulties which deprive us of the knowledge o 
the real foundations of human society. It is this ignoranci 
of the nature of man, which casts so much uncertainty 
and obscurity on the true definition of natural right : for 
the idea of right, says Burlamaqui, and more particular! 1 
that of natural right, are ideas manifestly relative to th( 
nature of man. It is then from this very nature itself, h< 
goes on, from the constitution and state of man, that w< 
must deduce the first principles of this science. 

We cannot see without surprise and disgust how littlt 
agreement there is between the different authors who have 
treated this great subject. Among the more importan 
writers there are scarcely two of the same mind abou 
it. Not to speak of the ancient philosophers, who seen 
to have done their best purposely to contradict one anothe 
on the most fundamental principles, the Roman jurist 
subjected man and the other animals indiscriminately tc 
the same natural law, because they considered, under tha 
name, rather the law which nature imposes on hersel 
than that which she prescribes to others ; or rather becaus 
of the particular acceptation of the term law among thos 
jurists ; who seem on this occasion to have understoo< 
nothing more by it than the general relations establishei 
by nature between all animated beings, for their commoi 
preservation. The moderns, understanding, by the tern 
law, merely a rule prescribed to a moral being, that is t 
say intelligent, free and considered in his relations ti 
other beings, consequently confine the jurisdiction o 
natural law to man, as the only animal endowed wit! 

The Origin of Inequality 171 

reason. But, defining this law, each after his own fashion, 
they have established it on such metaphysical principles, 
that there are very few persons among us capable of com 
prehending them, much less of discovering them for them 
selves. So that the definitions of these learned men, all 
differing in everything else, agree only in this, that it is 
impossible to comprehend the law of nature, and conse 
quently to obey it, without being a very subtle casuist and 
a profound metaphysician. All which is as much as to 
say that mankind must have employed, in the establish 
ment of society, a capacity which is acquired only with 
great difficulty, and by very few persons, even in a state 
of society. 

Knowing so little of nature, and agreeing so ill about 
the meaning of the word law, it would be difficult for us 
to fix on a good definition of natural law. Thus all the 
definitions we meet with in books, setting pside their 
defect in point of uniformity, have yet another fault, in 
that they are derived from many kinds of knowledge, 
which men do not possess naturally, and from advantages 
of which they can have no idea until they have already 
departed from that state. Modern writers begin by 
inquiring what rules it would be expedient for men to 
agree on for their common interest, and then give the 
name of natural law to a collection of these rules, without 
any other proof than the good that would result from 
their being universally practised. This is undoubtedly a 
simple way of making definitions, and of explaining the 
nature of things by almost arbitrary conveniences. 

But as long as we are ignorant of the natural man, it 
is in vain for us to attempt to determine either the law 
originally prescribed to him, or that which is best adapted 
to his constitution. All we can know with any certainty- 
respecting this law is that, if it is to be a law, not only 
the wills of those it obliges must be sensible of their 
submission to it ; but also, to be natural, it must come 
directly from the voice of nature. 

Throwing aside, therefore, all those scientific books, 
which teach us only to see men such as they have made 
themselves, and contemplating the first and most simple 
operations of the human soul, I think I can perceive in it 
two principles prior to reason, one of them deeply interest- 

172 A Discourse on 

ing us in our own welfare and preservation, and the other 
exciting a natural repugnance at seeing any other sensibk 
being, and particularly any of our own species, suffer pair 
or death. It is from the agreement and combination whicl: 
the understanding is in a position to establish betweer 
these two principles, without its being necessary to intro 
duce that of sociability, that all the rules of natural righl 
appear to me to be derived (rules which our reason is 
afterwards obliged to establish on other foundations, 
when by its successive developments it has been led tc 
-\ suppress nature itself^ 

In proceeding thus, we shall not be* obliged to mak< 
man a philosopher before he is a man. (His duties towan 
others are not dictated to him only by the later lessons o 
wisdom ; and, so long as he does pot resist the interna 
impulse of compassion, he will never hurt any other man 
nor even any sentient being, except on those lawful occa 
sions on which his own preservation is concerned^and he i 
obliged to give himself the preference. By this methoc 
also we put an end to the time-honoured disputes con 
cerning the participation of animals in natural law : for i 
is clear that, being destitute of intelligence and liberty 
they cannot recognise that law ; as they partake, however 
in some measure of our nature, in consequence of th< 
sensibility with which they are endowed, they ought t( 
partake of natural right; so that mankind is subjected t< 
a kind of obligation even toward the brutes. It appears 
in fact, that if I am bound to do no injury to my fellow 
creatures, this is less because they are rational thai 
because they are sentient beings : and this quality, beinj 
common both to men and beasts, ought to entitle the latte 
at least to the privilege of not being wantonly ill-treate< 
by the former. 

The very study of the original man, of his real wants 
and the fundamental principles of his duty, is besides th< 
only proper method we can adopt to obviate all the diffi 
culties which the origin of moral inequality presents, 01 
the true foundations of the body politic, on the reciproca 
rights of its members, and on many other similar topic; 
equally important and obscure. 

If we look at human society with a calm and disinter 
eye, it seems, at first, to show us only the violenc< 

The Origin of Inequality 173 

>f the powerful and the oppression of the weak. The 
nind is shocked at the cruelty of the one, or is induced 
o lament the blindness of the other ; and as nothing is less 
(ermanent in life than those external relations, which are 
nore frequently produced by accident than wisdom, and 
vhich are called weakness or power, riches or poverty, all 
mman institutions seem at first glance to be founded 
nerely on banks of shifting sand. It is only by taking a 
loser look, and removing the dust and sand that surround 
he edifice, that we perceive the immovable basis on which 
t is raised, and learn to respect its foundations. Now, 
vithout a serious study of man, his natural faculties and 
heir successive development, we shall never be able to 
nake these necessary distinctions, or to separate, in the 
ictual constitution of things, that which is the effect of 
he divine will, from the innovations attempted by human 
rt. The political and moral investigations, therefore, to 
vhich the important question before us leads, are in every 
espect useful ; while the hypothetical history of govern- 
nents affords a lesson equally instructive to mankind. 

In considering what we should have become, had we 
>een left to ourselves, we should learn to bless Him, whose 
nracious hand, correcting our institutions, and giving 
hem an immovable basis, has prevented those disorders 
rhich would otherwise have arisen from them, and caused 
ur happiness to come from those very sources which 
eemed likely to involve us in misery. 

Quem te deus esse 

Jiissit, et hiimand qud parte locatus es in re, 

Persins, Satire ii. : 71. 



IT is of man that I have to speak ; and the question 1 
am investigating shows me that it is to men that I mus 
address myself : for questions of this sort are not askec 
by those who are afraid to honour truth. I shall then con 
fidently uphold the cause of humanity before the wist 
men who invite me to do so, and shall not be dissatisfiec 
if I acquit myself in a manner worthy of my subject am 
of my judges. 

I conceive that there are twojfinrlfi of inequality among 
the human species ; one, which I call natural-or- physical 
because it is established by nature, and consists in a differ 
ence of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities o; 
the mind or of the soul : and another, which may be callec 
mr>ra] or ppjjf^gl inequality, because it depends on a kinc 
of convention, and is established, or at least authorised b} 
the consent of men. This latter consists of the differeni 
privileges, which some men enjoy to the prejudice o) 
others ; such as that of being more rich, more honoured, 
more powerful or even in a position to exact obedience. 

It is useless to ask what is the source of natural in 
equality, because that question is answered by the simplt 
definition of the word. Again, it is still more useless tc 
inquire whether there is any essential connection betweer 
the two inequalities ; for this would be only asking, in othei 
words, whether those who command are necessarily bettei 
than those who obey, and if strength of body or of mind 
wisdom or virtue are always found in particular indi 
viduals, in proportion to their power or wealth : a questior 
fit perhaps to be discussed by slaves in the hearing of theii 
masters, but highly unbecoming to reasonable and fret 
men in search of the truth. 


The Origin of Inequality 175 


176 A Discourse on 


c \*of things, than to ascertain their actual origin; just like 
the hypotheses which our physicists daily form respecting 
the formation of the world. Religion commands us to 
believe that, God Himself having taken men out of a state 
of nature immediately after the creation, they are unequal 
only because it is His will they should be so : but it does 
not forbid us to form conjectures based solely on the nature 
of man, and the beings around him, concerning what 
might have become of the human race, if it had been left 
to itself. This then is the question asked me, and that 
which I propose to discuss in the following discourse. 
As my subject interests mankind in general, I shall 
j endeavour to make use of a style adapted to all nations, 

or rather, forgetting time and place, to attend only to men 
to whom I am speaking. I shall suppose myself in the 
Lyceum of Athens, repeating the lessons of my masters, 
with Plato and Xenocrates for judges, and the whole 
human race for audience. 

O man, of whatever country you are, and whatever your 
opinions may be, behold your history, such as I have 
thought to read it, not in books written by your fellow- 
creatures, who are liars, but in nature, which never lies. 
All that comes from her will be true ; nor will you meet 
with anything false, unless I have involuntarily put in 
something of my own. The times of which I am going to 
speak are very remote : how much are you changed 
from what you once were ! It is, so to speak, the life of 
your species which I am going to write, after the qualities 
which you have received, which your education and habits 
may have depraved, but cannot have entirely destroyed. 
There is, I feel, an age at which the individual man 
would wish to stop : you ^re about to inquire about the 
age at which you would ~Eave__liked y_our__ whole species 
t g^sfana still. Discontented with~ your presenT~state,~7of 
reasons wmch threaten your unfortunate descendants with 
still greater discontent, you will perhaps wish it were in 
your power to go back ; and this feeling should be a 
panegyric on your first ancestors, a criticism of your con 
temporaries, and a terror to the unfortunates who will 
come after you. 

The Origin of Inequality 179 




A Discourse on 

While tne earth was left to its natural fertility and 
coveed with immense forests, whose trees were never 
mutilated by the axe, it would present on every side both 
sustenance and shelter for every species of animal. Men, 
dispersed up and down among the rest, would observe and 
imitate their industry, and thus attain even to the instinct 
of the beasts, with the advantage that, whereas every 
species of brutes was confined to one particular instinct, 
man, who perhaps has not any one peculiar to himself, 
would appropriate them all, and live upon most of those 
different foods, which other animals shared among them 
selves; and thus would find his subsistence much more 
easily than any of the rest. 

Accustomed from their infancy to the inclemencies of 
the weather and the rigour of the seasons, inured to 
fatigue, and forced, naked and unarmed, to defend them 
selves and their prey from other ferocious animals, or to 
escape them by flight, men would acquire a robust and 
almost unalterable constitution. The children, bringing 
with them into the world the excellent constitution of their 
parents, and fortifying it by the very exercises which first 
produced it, would thus acquire all the vigour of which 
the human frame is capable. Nature in this case treats 
them exactly as Sparta treated the children of her citizens : 
those who come well formed into the world she renders 
strong and robust, and all the rest she destroys ; differing 
in this respect from our modern communities, in which 
the State, by making children a burden to their parents, 
kills them indiscriminately before they are born. 

The body of a savage man being the only instrument he 
understands, he uses it for various purposes, of which 
ours, for want of practice, are incapable : for our industry 
deprives us of that force and agility, which necessity 
obliges him to acquire. If he had had an axe, would he 
have been able with his naked arm to break so large a 
branch from a tree? If he had had a sling, would he 
have been able to throw a stone with so great velocity? 
If he had had a ladder, would he have been so nimble in 
climbing a tree? If he had had a horse, would he have 
been himself so swift of foot? Give civilised man time to 
gather all his machines about him, and he will no doubt 
easily beat the savage ; but if you would see a still more 

The Origin of Inequality 179 

unequal contest, set them together naked and unarmed, 
and you will soon see the advantage of having all our 
forces constantly at our disposal, of being always prepared 
for every event, and of carrying one s self, as it were, 
perpetually whole and entire about one. 

Hobbes contends that man is naturally intrepid, and is 
intent only upon attacking and fighting. Another illustrious 
philosopher holds the opposite, and Cumberland and Puffen- 
dorf also affirm that nothing is more timid and fearful than 
man in the state of nature; that he is always in a tremble, 
and ready to fly at the least noise or the slightest move 
ment. This may be true of things he does not know; and 
I do not doubt his being terrified by every novelty that 
presents itself, when he neither knows the physical good 
or evil he may expect from it, nor can make a comparison 
between his own strength and the dangers he is about to 
encounter. Such circumstances, however, rarely occur in 
a state of nature, in which all things proceed in a uniform 
manner, and the face of the earth is not subject to those 
sudden and continual changes which arise from the 
passions and caprices of bodies of men living together. 
But savage man, living dispersed among other animals, 
and finding himself betimes in a situation to measure his 
strength with theirs, soon comes to compare himself with 
them ; and, perceiving that he surpasses them more in 
adroitness than they surpass him in strength, learns to be 
no longer afraid of them. Set a bear, or a wolf, against 
a robust, agile, and resolute savage, as they all are, 
armed with stones and a good cudgel, and you will see 
that the danger will be at least on both sides, and that, 
after a few trials of this kind, wild beasts, which are not 
fond of attacking each other, will not be at all ready to 
attack man, whom they will have found to be as wild and 
ferocious as themselves. With regard to such animals as 
have really more strength than man has adroitness, he is 
in the same situation as all weaker animals, which not 
withstanding are still able to subsist; except indeed that 
he has the advantage that, being equally swift of foot, 
and finding an almost certain place of refuge in every tree, 
he is at liberty to take or leave it at every encounter, and 
thus to fight or fly, as he chooses. Add to this that it 
does not appear that any animal naturally makes war on 

i8o A Discourse on 

man, except in case of self-defence or excessive hunger, or 
betrays any of those violent antipathies, which seem to 
indicate that one species is intended by nature for the food 
of another. 

This is doubtless why negroes and savages are so little 
afraid of the wild beasts they may meet in the woods. 
The Caraibs of Venezuela among others live in this respect 
in absolute security and without the smallest inconveni 
ence. Though they are almost naked, Francis Correal tells 
us, they expose themselves freely in the woods, armed 
only with bows and arrows ; but no one has ever heard of 
one of them being devoured by wild beasts. 

But man has other enemies more formidable, against 
which he is not provided with such means of defence : 
these are the natural infirmities of infancy, old-age, and 
Illness _of_eyerv_kind, melancholy proofs of our weakness, 
of which the two first are common" "to "all animals, and the 
last belongs chiefly to man in a state of society. With 
regard to infancy, it is observable that the mother, carry-" 
ing her child always with her, can nurse it with much 
greater ease than the females of many other animals, which 
are forced to be perpetually going and coming, with great 
fatigue, one way to find subsistence, and another to suckle 
or feed their young. It is true that if the woman happens 
to perish, the infant is in great danger of perishing with 
her; but this risk is common to many other species of 
animals, whose young take ^a long time before they are 
able to provide for themselves. And if our infancy is 
longer than theirs, our lives are longer in proportion ; so 
that all things are in this respect fairly equal ; though 
there are other rules to be considered regarding the dura 
tion of the first period of life, and the number of young, 
which do not affect the present subject. In old age, when 
men are less active and perspire little, the need for food 
diminishes with the ability to provide it. As the savage 
state also protects them from gout and rheumatism, and 
old age is, of all ills, that which human aid can least 
alleviate, they cease to be, without others perceiving that 
they are no more, and almost without perceiving it 

With respect to sickness, I shall not repeat the vain 
and false declamations which most healthy people pro- 

The Origin of Inequality 181 

nounce against medicine; but I shall ask if any solid 
observations have been made from which it may be justly 
concluded that, in the countries where the art of medicine 
is most neglected, the mean duration of man s life is less 
than in those where it is most cultivated. .How indeed can 
this be the case, if we bring on ourselves more diseases 
than medicine can furnish remedies? The great inequality 
in manner of living, the extreme idleness of some, and the 
excessive labour of others, the easiness of exciting and 
gratifying our sensual appetites, the too exquisite foods of 
the wealthy which overheat and fill them with indigestion, 
and, on the other hand, the unwholesome food of the poor, 
often, bad as it is, insufficient for their needs, which 
induces them, when opportunity offers, to eat voraciously/f" 
and overcharge their stomachs ; all these, together witlfj* 
sitting up late, and excesses of every kind, immoderate^"" 
transports of every passion, fatigue, mental exhaustion, 
the innumerable pains and anxieties inseparable from 
every condition of life, by which the mind of man is inces 
santly tormented ; these are too fatal proofs that the 
greaterHart of our ills arft-o-ui UW11 tnakaffr-aod-tk 
w^fRJght-haKe avoided tr""i paHy.n fry adhering to-tt&t i 
sStgrjle^ uniform and solitary m -***~~r-nf-ffi* n,h,* n -n**,, 
- prescribed^ If she destined man to be healthy, I venture 
to declare that a state of reflection is a state contrary to 
nature, and that a thinkjpg nign is a depraved animal. I 
When we think of the good constitution of the savages, at 
least of those whom we have%ot ruined with our spirit 
uous liquors, and reflect that they are troubled with hardly 
any disorders, save wounds and old age, we are tempted 
to believe that, in following the history of civil society, 
we shall be telling also that of human sickness. Such, at 
least, was the opinion of Plato, who inferred from certain 
remedies prescribed, or approved, by Podalirius and 
Machaon at the siege of Troy, that several sicknesses 
which these remedies gave rise to in his time, were not 
then known to mankind : and Celsus tells us that diet, 
which is now so necessary, was first invented by 

Being subject therefore to so few causes of sickness, 
man, in the state of nature, can have no need of remedies, 
and still less of physicians : nor is the human race in this 

1 82 A Discourse on 

respect worse off than other animals, and it is easy to 
learn from hunters whether they meet with many infirm 
animals in the course of the chase. It is certain they fre 
quently meet with such as carry the marks of having been 
considerably wounded, with many that have had bones 
or even limbs broken, yet have been healed without any 
other surgical assistance than that of time, or any other 
regimen than that of their ordinary life. At the same time 
their cures seem not to have been less perfect, for their 
not having been tortured by incisions, poisoned with drugs, 
or wasted by fasting. In short, however useful medicine, 
properly administered, may be among us, it is certain that, 
if the savage, when he is sick and left to himself, has 
nothing to hope but from nature, he has, on the other 
hand, nothing to fear but from his disease ; which renders 
his situation often preferable to our own. 

We should beware, therefore, of confounding the savage 
man with the men we have daily before our eyes. Nature 
treats all the animals left to her care with a predilection 
that seems to show how jealous she is of that right. The 
horse, the cat, the bull, and even the ass are generally of 
greater stature, and always more robust, and have more 
vigour, strength and courage, when they run wild in the 
forests than when bred in the stall. By becoming domesti 
cated, they lose half these advantages; and Itjseems, ay .if 
all our care to feed and treat them wefl. serves. on)y to 
deprave them. It is thus with man also : as he becomes* 
sociable and a slave, he grows weak, timid and servile; 
his effeminate way of life totally enervates his strength 
and courage. To this it may be added that there is still 
a greater difference between savage and civilised man, 
than between wild and tame beasts : for men and brutes 
having been treated alike by nature, the several conveni 
ences in which men indulge themselves still more than 
they do their beasts, are so many additional causes of their 
deeper degeneracy. 

It is not therefore so great a misfortune to these primi 
tive men, nor so great an obstacle to their preservation, 
that they go naked, have no dwellings and lack all the 
superfluities which we think so necessary. If their skins 
are not covered with hair, they have no need of such cover 
ing in warm climates ; and, in cold countries, they soon 

The Origin of Inequality 183 

learn to appropriate the skins of the beasts they have over 
come. If they have but two legs to run with, they have 
two arms to defend themselves with, and provide for their 
wants. Their children are slowly and with difficulty taught 
to walk ; but their mothers are able to carry them with 
ease ; an advantage which other animals lack, as the 
mother, if pursued, is forced either to abandon her young, 
or to regulate her pace by theirs. Unless, in short, we 
suppose a singular and fortuitous concurrence of circum 
stances of which I shall speak later, and which would be 
unlikely to exist, it is plain in every state of the case, that 
the man who first made himself clothes or a dwelling was 
furnishing himself with things not at all necessary ; for he 
had till then done without them, and there is no reason 
why he should not have been able to put up in manhood 
with the same kind of life as had been his in infancy. 

Solitary, indolent, iind perpetually accompanied by 
danger, fhe~^avagc caTin^P^aiJtJES^^eftd-of-sleep ; his sleep 
too must be light, like that of the animals, which think but 
little and may be said to slumber all the time they do not 
think. Self-preservation being his chief and almost sole 
concern, he must exercise most those faculties which are 
most concerned with attack or defence, either for over 
coming his prey, or for preventing him from becoming the 
prey of other animals. On the other hand, those organs 
which are perfected only by softness and sensuality will 
remain in a gross and imperfect state, incompatible with 
any sort of delicacy ; so that, his senses being divided on 
this head, his touch and taste will be extremely coarse, 
his sight, hearing and smell exceedingly fine and subtle. 
Such in general is the animal condition, and such, accord 
ing to the narratives of travellers, is that of most savage 
nations. It is therefore no matter for surprise that the 
Hottentots of the Cape of Good Hope distinguish ships at 
sea, with the naked eye, at as great a distance as the 
Dutch can do with their telescopes; or that the savages of 
America should trace the Spaniards, by their smell, as well 
as the best dogs could have done ; or that these barbarous 
peoples feel no pain in going naked, or that they use large 
quantities of piemento with their food, and drink the 
strongest European liquors like water. 

Hitherto I have considered merely the physical man; let 

1 84 

A Discourse on 

us now take a view of him on his metaphysical and moral 

I see nothing in any animal but an ingenious machine, 
to which nature hath given senses to wind itself up, and 
to guard itself, to a certain degree, against anything that 
might tend to disorder or destroy it. I perceive exactly 
the same things in the human machine^ with this differ 
ence, that in the operations 6Tt?ie~5rute, nature is the sole 
agent, whereas man has some share in his own ..operations, 
in his character as a free agent. The one chooses and 
refuses by instinct, the other from an act of free-will : 
hence the brute cannot deviate from the rule prescribed to 
it, even when- it would be advantageous for it to do so; 
and, on the contrary, man frequently deviates from such 
rules to his own prejudice. Thus a pigeon would be 
starved to death by the side of a dish of the choicest meats, 
and a cat on a heap of fruit or grain ; though it is certain 
that either might find nourishment in the foods which it 
thus rejects with disdain, did it think of trying them. 
Hence it is that dissolute men run into excesses which 
bring on fevers and death ; because the mind depraves the 
senses, and the will continues to speak when nature is 

Every animal has ideas, since it has senses ; it even 
combines those ideas in a certain degree ; and it is only in 
degree that man differs, in this respect, from the brute. 
Some philosophers have even maintained that there is a 
greater difference between one man and another than 
between some men and some beasts. It is not, therefore, 
so much the understanding that constitutes the specific 
difference between the man and the brute, as the human 
quality of free-agency. Nature lays her commands on 
every animal, and the brute obeys her voice. Man receives 
the same impulsion, but at the same time knows himself 
at liberty to acquiesce or resist :\ and it is particularly in 
his consciousness of this liberty that the spirituality of his 
soul is displayed. For physics may explain, in some 
measure, the mechanism of the senses and the formation 
of ideas ; but in the power of willing or rather of choosing, 
and in the feeling of this power, nothing is to be found 
but acts which are purely spiritual and wholly inexplicable 
by the laws of mechanism. 

However, even if the difficulties attending all these 

The Origin of Inequality 185 

questions should still leave room for difference in this 
respect between men and brutes, there is another very 
specific Quality which distinguishes thfT^anfi whirh will 
ad m rfoTnoT dispute . This is the faculty of self-improvement, 
which, by the Help of circumstances, gradually develops 
all the rest of our faculties, and is inherent in the species 
as in the individual : whereas a brute is, at the end of a 
few months, all he will ever be during his whole life, and 
his species, at the end of a thousand years, exactly what 
it was the first year of that thousand. Why is man alon& 
liable to grow^ntp__a_.dotard ? Is it not because fie returns, 
Or tms, to his primitive state; and that, while the brute, 
which has acquired nothing and has therefore nothing to 
lose, still retains the force of instinct, man, who loses, 
by age or accident, all that his perj edibility _ had enabled 
him to gain, falls by this mezTris" "lower than the brutes 
themselves? It would be melancholy, were we forced to 
admit that this distinctive and almost unlimited faculty, 
is the source of all human misfortunes ; that it is this< 
which, in time, draws man out of his original state, in. 
which he would have spent his days insensibly in peace 
and innocence; that it is this faculty, which, successively 
producing in different ages his discoveries and his errors, 
his vices and his virtues, makes him at length a tyrant 
both over himself and over nature. 1 It would be shocking 
to be obliged to regard as a benefactor the man who first 
suggested to the Oroonoko Indians the use of the boards 
they apply to the temples of their children, which secure 
to them some part at least of their imbecility and original 

Savag-e_man, left by nature solely to the direction of 
instinct, ^r rather indemnified for what he may lack by 
Faculties capable at first of supplying its place, and after 
wards of raising him much above it, must accordingly 
begin with purely animal functions : thus seeing and feel 
ing must be" Els first condition," 1 which would be common to 
him and all other animals. To will, and not to will, to 
desire and to fear, must be the first, and almost the only 
operations of his soul, till new circumstances occasion new 
developments of his faculties. 

Whatever moralists may hold, the human understanding 

1 See Appendix, p. 239. 

1 86 A Discourse on 

is greatly indebtecfto the passions, which, it is universally 
allowed, are also much indebted to the understanding. 
It is by the activity of the passions that our reason isj 
improved ; for we desire knowledge only because we wish 
to enjoy ; and it is impossible to conceive any reason w.hy 
a person who has neither fears nor desires should give 
himself the trouble of reasoning. The passions, again, 
originate in our wants, and their progress depends on that 
of our knowledge ; for we cannot desire or fear anything, 
except from the idea we have of it, or from the simple 
impulse of nature. Now savage man, being destitute of 
every species of intelligence, can have no passions save 
those of the latter kind : his desires never go beyond his 
physical wants. The only goods he recognises in the 
Universe are food, a female, and sleep : the only evils he 
fears are pain and hunger. I say pain, and not death : 
for no animal can know what it is to die ; 

of death and its terrors being one of the first acquisitions 
made by man in departing from an anirnaj_slate. 

It would be easy, were it necessary, to support this 
opinion by facts, and to show that, in all the nations of 
the world, the progress of the understanding has been 
exactly jiroportionateJte_the wants which the peoples had 
received from nature, or been~siTBjected to by circling 
stances, and in consequence to the passions that induced 
them to provide for those necessities. I might instance 
the arts, rising up in Egypt and expanding with the 
inundation of the Nile. I might follow their progress 
into Greece, where they took root afresh, grew up and 
towered to the skies, among the rocks and sands of 
Attica, without being able to germinate on the fertile 
banks of the Eurotas : I might observe that in general, 
the people of the North are more industrious than those 
of the South, because they cannot get on so well without 
being so : as if nature wanted to equalise matters by 
giving their udr^taj3djp^[s_tj}^ejtility..she had refused 
to their soil. 

""But who does not see, without recurring to the uncertain 
testimony of history, that everything seems to remove 
from savage man both the temptation and the means of 
changing his condition? His imagination paints no 
pictures ; his heart makes no demands on him. His few 

The Origin of Inequality 187 

ivants are so readily supplied, and he is so far from having 
the knowledge which is needful to make him want more, 
that he can have neither foresight nor curiosity. The face 
nature becomes indifferent to him as it grows familiar. 
He sees in it always the same order, the same successions : 
ic has not understanding enough to wonder at the great 
est miracles ; nor is it in his mind that we can expect to 
find that philosophy man needs, if he is to know how 
o notice for once what he sees every day. His soul, 
vhich nothing disturbs, is wholly wrapped up in the feei 
ng of its present existence, without any idea of the future, 
lowever near at hand; while his projects, as limited as his 
iews, hardly extend to the close of day. Such, even at 
)resent, is the extent of the native Caribean s foresight : 
ic will improvidently sell you his cotton-bed in the morn- 
ng, and come crying in the evening to buy it again, not 
laving foreseen he would want it again the next night. 

The more we reflect on this subject, the greater appears 
he distance between pure, sensation and the most simple 
tnowledge : it is impossible indeed to conceive how a man, 
>y his own powers alone, without the aid of communication 
nd the spur of necessity, could have bridged so great a 
jap. How many ages may have elapsed before mankind 
/ere in a position to behold any other fire than that of 
be heavens. What a multiplicity of chances must have 
lappened to teach them the commonest uses of that 
lement ! How often must they have let it out before they 
cquired the art of reproducing it? and how often may not 
uch a secret have died with him who had discovered it? 
Vhat shall we say of agriculture, an art which requires 
o much labour and foresight, which is so dependent on 
>thers that it is plain it could only be practised in a 
ociety which had at least begun, and which does not serve 
o much to draw the means of subsistence from the earth 

for these it would produce of itself but to compeL-it 
o produce what is most to our taste? But let us suppose 
hat men had so mult iplicdHFhat the natural produce of 
he earth was no longer sufficient for their support; a sup- 
>osition, by the way, which would prove such a life to be 
ery advantageous for the human race; let us suppose 
hat, without forges or workshops, the instruments of 
husbandry had dropped from the sky into the hands of 

1 88 A Discourse on 

savages; that they had overcome their natural aversior 
to continual labour ; that they had learnt so much foresighi 
for their needs ; that they had divined how to cultivate the 
earth, to sow grain and plant trees ; that they had dis 
covered the arts of grinding corn, and of setting the grape 
to ferment all being things that must have been taugh 
them by the gods, since it is not to be conceived how they 
could discover them for themselves yet after all this, 
what man among them would be so absurd as to take 
the trouble of cultivatinga field, which might be stripped,ol 
its crop by the first comer, man or beast, that might take 
a liking to it; and how should each of them resolve to 
pass his life in wearisome labour, when, the more necessary 
to him the reward of his labour might be, the surer he 
would be of not getting it? In a word, how could such 
a situation induce men to cultivate the earth, till it was 
regularly parcelled out among them ; that is tq^ say, till the 
state pJLnjLtureJaad_hen abolished ? 

Were we to suppose savage man as trained in the art of 
thinking as philosophers make him ; were we, like them, 
to suppose him a very philosopher capable of investigating 
the sublimest truths, and of forming, by highly abstract ||! 
chains of reasoning, maxims of reason and justice, deduced , 
from the love of order in general, or the known will of his 
Creator ; in a word, were we to suppose him as intelligent E 
and enlightened, as he must have been, and is in fact found f 
to have been, dull and stupid, what advantage would [ 
accrue to the species, from all such metaphysics, which 
could not be communicated by one to another, but must ! 
end with him who made them? What progress could be 
made by mankind, while dispersed in the woods among * 
other animals? and how far could men improve or mutually " 
enlighten one another, when, having no fixed Jiabitation, a< 
and no need of one another s assistance, the same persons (1 
hardly met twice in their lives, and geTh^ps_then, without ! 
knowing one another or speaking together? 

Let it be considered how many ideas we owe to the 
use of speech ; how far grammar exercises the understand- al 
ing and facilitates its operations. Let us reflect on the ; 5 
inconceivable pains and the infinite space of time that the " 
first invention of languages must have cost. To these " 
reflections add what preceded, and then judge how many , 

The Origin of Inequality 189 

housand ages must have elapsed in the successive develop- 
nent in the human mind of those operations of which 
t is capable. 

I shall here take the liberty for a moment, of considering 
he difficulties of the origin of languages, on which subject 

might content myself with a simple repetition of the Abbe 
3ondillac s investigations, as they fully confirm my system, 
nd perhaps even first suggested it. But it is plain, from 
he manner in which this philosopher solves the difficulties 
le himself raises, concerning the origin of arbitrary signs, 
hat he assumes what I question, viz. that a kind of society 
nust already have existed among the first inventors of 
anguage. While I refer, therefore, to his observations 
>a this head, I think it right to give my own, in order 
o exhibit the same difficulties in a light adapted to my 
ubject. The first which presents itself is to conceive how 
anguage can have become necessary ; for as there was 
IQ communication arngflg "ffietr and- no need for any, we 
an neither conceive the necessity of this invention, nor the 
>ossibility of it, if it was not somehow indispensable. I 
night affirm, with many others, that languages arose in 
he domestic intercourse between parents and their 
hildren. But this expedient would not obviate the diffi- 
ulty, and would besides involve the blunder made by 
hose who, in reasoning on the state of nature, always 
mport into it ideas gathered in a state of society. Thus 
hey constantly consider families as living together under 
ne roof, and the individuals of each as observing among 
hemselves a union as intimate and permanent as that 
rihich exists among us, where so many common interests 
mite them : whereas, in this primitive state, men had 
icither houses, nor huts, nor any kind of property what- 
:ver; every one lived where he could, seldom for more than 
. single night; the sexes united without design, as acci- 
lent, opportunity or inclination brought them together, nor 
tad they any great need of words to communicate their 
lesigns to each other; and they parted with the same 
ndifference. The mother gave suck to her children at 
irst for her own sake ; and afterwards, when habit had 
nade them dear, for theirs : but as soon as they were 
trong enough to go in search of their own food, they 
orsook her of their own accord ; and, as they had hardly 

190 A Discourse on 

any other method of not losing one another than that of 
remaining continually within sight, they soon became quite 
incapable of recognising one another when they happened 
to meet again. It is farther to be observed that the child, 
having all his wants to explain, and of course more to say 
to his mother than the mother could have to say to him, 
must have borne the brunt of the task of invention, and 
the language he used would be of his own device, so that 
the number of languages would be equal to that of the 
individuals speaking them, and the variety would be in 
creased by the vagabond and roving life they led, which 
would not give time for any idiom to become constant. 
For to say that the mother dictated to her child the words 
he was to use in asking her for one thing or another, is 
an explanation of how languages already formed arc 
taught, but by no means explains how languages were 
originally formed. 

We will suppose, however, that this first difficulty is 
obviated. Let us for a moment then take ourselves as 
being on this side of the vast space which must lie be 
tween a pure state of nature and that in which languages < 
had become necessary, and, admitting their necessity, let 
us inquire how they could first be established. Here we < 
have a new and worse difficulty to grapple with ; for jf 
men nee d speech to learn to think, they must have stood t 
in much greater neied of the art of thinking, to be able 
to invent that of speaking. And though we might con- a 
ceive how the articulate sounds of the voice came to be * 
taken as the conventional interpreters of our ideas, it it 
would still remain for us to inquire what could have been ii 
the interpreters of this convention for those ideas, which, n 
answering to no sensible objects, could not be indicated ii 
either by gesture or voice ; so that we can hardly forn a 
any tolerable conjectures about the origin of this ar t 
of communicating our thoughts and establishing a corre 
spondence between minds : an art so sublime, that fai o 
distant as it is from its origin, philosophers still behold it tl 
at such an immeasurable distance from perfection, thai a 
there is none rash enough to affirm it will ever reach it, p 
even though the revolutions time necessarily produce5 t 
were suspended in its favour, though prejudice should b< je 
banished from our academies or condemned to silence, anc o 

The Origin of Inequality iy 

those learned societies should devote themselves uninter 
ruptedly for whole ages to this thorny question. 

The first language of mankind, the most universal and 
vivid, in a word the only language man needed, before he 
had occasion to exert his eloquence to persuade assembled 
multitudes, was the simple cry of nature. But as this was 
excited only by a sort of instinct on urgent occasions, to 
implore assistance in case of danger, or relief in case of 
suffering, it could be of little use in the ordinary course 
of life, in which more moderate feelings prevail. When 
the ideas of men began to expand and multiply, and closer 
communication took place among them, they strove to 
invent more numerous signs and a more copious language. 
They multiplied the inflections of the voice, and added 
gestures, which are in their own nature more expressive, 
and depend less for their meaning on a prior determina 
tion. Visible and movable objects were therefore 
expressed by gestures, and audible ones by imitative 
sounds : but, as hardly anything can be indicated by 
gestures, except objects actually present or easily 
described, and visible actions ; as they are not universally 
useful for darkness or the interposition of a material 
object destroys their efficacy and as besides they rather 
request than secure our attention ; men at length bethought, 
themselves of substituting for them the articulate sounds 
of the voice, which, without bearing the same relation to 
ny particular ideas, are better calculated to express them 
ll^as conventional signs. Such an institution could only 
be made by common consent, and must have been effected 
in a manner not very easy for men whose gross organs had 
not been accustomed to any such exercise. It is also in 
itself still more difficult to conceive, since such a common 
agreement must have had motives,, and speech seems to 
have been highly necessary to establish the use of it. 

It is reasonable to suppose that the words first made use 
of by mankind had a much more extensive signification than 
those used in languages already formed, and that ignorant 
as they were of the division of discourse into its constituent 
parts, they at first gave every single word the sense of a 
whole proposition. When they began to distinguish sub 
ject and attribute, and noun and verb, which was itself no 
common effort of genius, substantives were at first only 

192 A Discourse on 

so many proper names ; the present infinitive was the only 
tense of verbs ; and the very idea of adjectives must have 
been developed with great difficulty ; for every adjective 
is an abstract idea, and abstractions are painful and 
unnatural operations. 

Every object at first received a particular name without 
regard to genus or species, which these primitive origin 
ators were not in a position to distinguish ; every individual 
presented itself to their minds in isolation, as they are in 
the picture of nature. If one oak was called A, another 
was called B ; for the primitive idea of two things is that 
they are not the same, and it often takes a long time for 
what they have in common to be seen : so that, the 
narrower the limits of their knowledge of things, the more 
copious their dictionary must have been. The difficulty of 
using such a vocabulary could not be easily removed ; for, to 
arrange beings under common and generic denominations, 
it became necessary to know their distinguishing proper 
ties : the need arose for observation and definition, that is 
to say, for natural history and metaphysics of" a far more 
developed kind than men can at that time have possessed. 

Add to this, that general ideas cannot be introduced into 
the mind without the assistance of words, nor can the 
understanding seize them except by means of propositions. 
This is one of the reasons why animals cannot form such 
ideas, or ever acquire that capacity for self-improvement^ 
which depends on them. When a monkey goes from one 
nut to another, are we to conceive that he entertains any 
general idea of that kind of fruit, and compares its arche 
type with the two individual nuts? Assuredly he does " 
not ; but the sight of one of these nuts recalls to his 
memory the sensations which he received from the other, 
and his eyes, being modified after a certain manner, give 
information to the palate of the modification it is about 
to receive. Every general idea is purely intellectual ; if 
the imagination meddles with it ever so little, the idea 
immediately becomes particular. If you endeavour to 
trace in your mind the image of a tree in general, you 
never attain to your end. In spite of all you can do, 
you will have to see it as great or little, bare or leafy, 
light or dark, and were you capable of seeing nothing in 
it but what is common to all trees, it would no longer be 

The Origin of Inequality 193 

like a tree at all. Purely abstract beings are perceiv 
able in the same manner, or are only conceivable by the 
help of language. The definition of a triangle alone gives 
you a true idea of it : the moment you imagine a triangle 
in your mind, it is some particular triangle and not 
another, and you cannot avoid giving it sensible lines and 
a coloured area. We must then make. use of propositions 
and of language in order to form. general-Ideas. F6r~no 
sooner does the imagination cease to operate than the 
understanding proceeds only by the help of words. If 
then the first inventors of speech could give names only 
to ideas they already had, it follows that the first sub 
stantives could be nothing more than proper names. 

But when our new grammarians, by means of which I 
have no conception, began to extend their ideas and 
generalise their terms, the ignorance of the inventors must 
have confined this method within very narrow limits ; and, 
as they had at first gone too far in multiplying the names 
of individuals, from ignorance of their genus and species, 
they made afterwards too few of these, from not having 
considered beings in all their specific differences. It would 
indeed have needed more knowledge and experience than 
they could have, and more pains and inquiry than they 
would have bestowed, to carry these distinctions to their 
proper length. If, even to-day, we are continually dis 
covering new species, which have hitherto escaped 
observation, let us reflect how many of them must have 
escaped men who judged things merely from their first 
appearance ! It is superfluous to add that the primitive 
classes and the most general notions must necessarily 
have escaped their notice also. How, for instance, could 
they have understood or thought of the words matter, 
spirit, substance, mode, figure, motion, when even our 
philosophers, who have so long been making use of them, 
have themselves the greatest difficulty in understanding 
them ; and when, the ideas attached to them being purely 
metaphysical, there are no models of them to be found 
in nature? 

But I stop at this point, and ask my judges to suspend 
their reading a while, to consider, after the invention of 

physical*lwg. r 4hlf;h U thp e&siest parf^nf language 

to invent, that there is still a great way to go, before the 

Q 06o 

194 A Discourse on 

thoughts of men will have found perfect expression and 
constant form, such as would answer the purposes of 
public speaking, and produce their effect on society. I 
beg of them to consider how much time must have been 
spent, and how much knowledge needed, to find out 
numbers, abstract terms, aorists and all the tenses of 
verbs, particles, syntax, the method of connecting pro 
positions, the forms of reasoning, and all the logic of 
speech. For myself, I am so aghast at the increasing 
difficulties which present themselves, and so well con 
vinced of the almost demonstrable impossibility that 
languages should owe their original institution to merely 
human means, that I leave, to any one who will undertake 
it, the discussion of the difficult problem, which was most 
necessary, the existence of society to the invention of 
language, or the invention of language to the establish 
ment of society. But be the origin of language and 
society what they may, it may be at least inferred, from 
the little care which nature has taken to unite mankind 
by mutual wants, and to facilitate the use of speech, that 
she has contributed little to make them sociable, and has 
put little of her own into all they have done to create such 
bonds of union. It is in fact impossible to conceive why, 
in a state of nature, one man should stand more in need 
of the assistance of another, than a monkey or a wolf of 
the assistance of another of its kind : or, granting that 
he did, what motives could induce that other to assist him ; 
or, even then, by what means they could agree about the 
conditions. I know it is incessantly repeated that man 
would in such a state have been the most miserable of 
creatures ; and indeed, if it be true, as I think I have 
proved, that he must have lived many ages, before he 
could have either desire or an opportunity of emerging 
from it, this would only be an accusation against nature, 
and not against the being which she had thus unhappily- 
constituted. But as I understand the word miserable, it 
either has no meaning at all, or else signifies only a pain 
ful privation of something, or a state of suffering either in 
body or soul. I should be glad to have explained to me, 
what kind of misery a free being, whose heart is at ease 
and whosfe body is in health, can possibly suffer. I would 
ask also, whether a social or a natural life is most likely 

The Origin of Inequality 195 

to become insupportable to those who enjoy it. We see 
around us hardly a creature in civil society, who does not 
lament his existence : we even see many deprive them 
selves of as much of it as they can, and laws human and 
divine together can hardly put a stop to the disorder. I 
ask, if it was ever known that a savage took it into his 
head, when at liberty, to complain of life or to make 
away with himself. Let us therefore judge, with less 
vanity, on which side the real misery is found. On the 
other hand, nothing could be more unhappy than savage 
man, dazzled by science, tormented by his passions, and 
reasoning about a state different from his own. It appears 
that Providence most wisely determined that the faculties, 
which he potentially possessed, should develop themselves 
only as occasion offered to exercise them, in order that 
they might not be superfluous or perplexing to him, by 
appearing before their time, nor slow and useless when 
the need for them arose. In instinct alone, he had all he 
required for living in the state &f nature ; and with a 
developed understanding he has only just enough to sup 
port life in society. 

It appears, at first view, that men in a state of nature, 
having no moral relations or determinate obligations one 
with another, could not be either good or bad, virtuous 
or vicious ; unless we take these terms in a physical sense, 
and call, in an individual, those qualities vices which may 
be injurious to his preservation, and those virtues which 
contribute to it; in which case, he would have to be 
accounted most virtuous, who put least check on the 
pure impulses of nature. But without deviating from the 
ordinary sense of the words, it will be proper to suspend 
the judgment we might be led to form on such a state, 
and be on our guard against our prejudices, till we have 
weighed the matter in the scales of impartiality, and seen 
whether virtues or vices preponderate among civilised 
men ; and whether their virtues do them more good than 
their vices do harm ; till we have discovered, whether the 
progress of the sciences sufficiently indemnifies them for 
the mischiefs they do one another, in proportion as they are 
better informed of the good they ought to do; or whether 
they would not be, on the whole, in a much happier con 
dition if they had nothing to fear or to hope from any one, 


A Discourse on 

than as they are, subjected to universal dependence, and 
obliged to take everything from those who engage to give 
them nothing in return. 

Above all T ..let jis not conclude, with, that .be 
cause man has no idea of goodness, he must be naturally 
wicked ; that he is vicious because he does not know virtue ; 
that he always refuses to do his fellow-creatures services 
which he does not think they have a right to demand ; or 
that by virtue of the right he truly claims to everything 
he needs, he foolishly imagines himself the sole proprietor 
of the whole universe. Hobbes had seen clearly the 
defects of all the modern definitions of natural right : but 
the consequences which he deduces from his own show 
that he understands it in an equally false sense. In 
reasoning on the principles he lays down, he ought to have 
said that the state of nature, being that in which the care 
for our own preservation is the least prejudicial to that 
of others, was consequently the best calculated to promote 
peace, and the most suitable for mankind. He does say 
the exact opposite, in consequence of having improperly 
;. admitted, as a part of savage man s care for self-pre 
servation, the gratification of a multitude of passions 
which are the work of society, and have made laws neces 
sary. A bad man, he says, is a robust child. But it 
remains to be proved whether man in a state of nature is 
this robust child : and, should we grant that he is, what 
would he infer? Why truly, that if this man, when robust 
and strong, were dependent on others as he is when feeble, 
there is no extravagance he would not be guilty of ; that 
he would beat his mother when she was too slow in giving 
him her breast; that he would strangle one of his younger 
brothers, if he should be troublesome to him, or bite the 
arm of another, if he put him to any inconvenience. But 
that man in the state of nature is both strong and de 
pendent involves two contrary suppositions. Man is weak 
when he is dependent, and is his own master before he 
comes to be strong. Hobbes did not reflect that the same 
cause, which prevents a savage from making use of his 
reason, as our jurists hold, prevents him also from abusing 
his faculties, as Hobbes himself allows : so that it may 
be justly said that savages are not bad merely because 
they do not know what it is to be good : for it is neither 

The Origin of Inequality 197 

the development of the understanding nor the restraint of 
law that hinders them from doing ill ; but the peacefulrtess. 
of their passions, and their ignorance of vice : tanto plus in 
illis proficit vitiorum ignoratio, quam in his cognitio 
virtutis. 1 There is another principle which has escaped 
Hobbes; which, haviog been bestowed on mankind, to 
moderate, on certain occasions, the impetuosity of egoism, 
or, before its birth, the desire of self-preservation, tempers/- 
the ardour with which he pursues his own welfare, by aw-^ 
innate repugnance at seeing a fellow-creature suffer.* 1^^ 
think I need not fear contradiction in holding man to be 
possessed of the only natural virtue, which could not be 
denied him by the most violent detractor of human virtue. 
I am speaking of compassion, which is, a disposition suit 
able to creatures so weak and subject to so many evils as 
we certainly are : by so much the more universal and useful 
to mankind, as it comes before any kind of reflection ; and 
at the same time so natural, that the very brutes them 
selves sometimes give evident proofs of it. Not "to^ v 
mention the tenderness of mothers for their offspring and 
the perils they encounter to save them from danger, it is 

1 [Justin. Hist, ii, 2. So much more does the ignorance of rice profit 
the one sort than the knowledge of virtue the other.] 

1 Egoism must not be confused with self-respect : for they differ both in 
themselves and in their effects. Self-respect is a natural feeling which 
leads every animal to look to its own preservation, and which, guided in 
man by reason and modified by compassion, creates humanity and virtue. 
Egoism is a purely relative and factitious feeling, which arises in t he state 
of society, leads each individual to make more of himself than of ny other, -- 
causes all the mutual damage men inflict one on another, and is the real 
source of he " sense of honour." This being understood, I maintain that, 
in our primitive condition, in the tiue. state, egoism did noijmiat ; 
for as each man regarded himself as the only observer of his actions, the 
only being in the universe who took any interest in him, and the sole judge 
of his deserts, no feeling arising from comparisons he could not be led to 
make could take root in his soul ; and for the same reason, he could know 
neither hatred nor the desire for revenge, since these passions can spring 
only from a sense of injury : and as it is the contempt or the intention to 
hurt, and not the harm done, which constitutes the injury, men who neither 
valued nor compared themselves could do one another much violence, 
when it suited them, without feeling any sense of injury. In a word, each 
man, regarding his fellows almost as he regarded animals of different 
species, might geize the prey of a weaker or yield up his own to a stronger, 
and yet consider these acts of violence as mere natural occurrences, without 
the slightest emotion of insolence or despite, or any other feeling than the 
joy or grief of success or failure. 


A Discourse on 

well known that houses show a reluctance to trample j 
living bodies. One animal never passes~By trie deau 
body of another of its species : there are even some which 
give their fellows a sort of burial ; while the mournful 
lowings of the cattle when they enter the slaughter-house 
show the impressions made on them by the horrible 
spectacle which meets them. We find, with pleasure, the 
author of the Fable of the Bees obliged to own that man 
is a compassionate and sensible being, and laying aside 
his cold subtlety of style, in the example he gives, to 
present us with the pathetic description of a man who, 
from a place of confinement, is compelled to behold a wild 
beast tear a child from the arms of its mother, grinding its 
tender limbs with its murderous teeth, and tearing its 
palpitating entrails with its claws. What horrid agita 
tion must not the eye-witness of such a scene experience, 
although he would not be personally concerned ! What 
anxiety would he not suffer at not being able to give any 
jlsistance to the fainting mother and the dying infant ! 
(2 Such is the pure emotion of nature, prior to all kinds 
iiof reflection ! Such is the force of natural compassion, 
L ^hich the greatest depravity of morals has as yet hardh 
been able to destroy ! for we daily find at our theatres 
men affected, nay shedding tears at the sufferings of a 
wretch who, were he in the tyrant s place, would probably 
even add to the torments of his enemies ; like the blood 
thirsty Sulla, who was so sensitive to ills he had not 
caused, or that Alexander of Pheros who did not dare to 
go and see any tragedy acted, for fear of being seen 
weeping with Andromache and Priam, though he could 
listen without emotion to the cries of all the citizens who 
were daily strangled at his command. 

Mollissima corda 

Htimano gentri dare se naturafatetttr, 
Qua lacrimas dedit. 

Juvenal, Satire xv, 151. l 

Mandeville well knew that, in spite of all their morality, 
men would have never been better than monsters, had 
not nature bestowed on them a sense of compassion, to aid 

1 [Nature avows she gave the human race the softest hearts, who gave 
them tears.] 

The Origin of Inequality 199 

the r reason : but he did not see that from this quality 
.i.^ne flow all those social virtues, of which he denied man 
the possession. But what is generosity, clemency or 
humanity but compassion applied to the weak, to the 
guilty, or to mankind in general? Even benevolence and 
friendship are, if we judge rightly, only the effects of 
compassion, constantly set upon a particular object : for 
how is it different to wish that another person may not 
suffer pain and uneasiness and to wish him happy? Were 
it even true that pity is no more than a feeling, which 
puts us in the place of the sufferer, a feeling, obscure yet 
lively in a savage, developed yet feeble in civilised man ; 
this truth would have no other consequence than to con 
firm my argument. Compassion must, in fact, be the 
stronger, the more the animal beholding any kind of 
distress identifies himself with the animal that suffers. 
Now, it is plain that such identification must have been 
much more perfect in a state of nature than it is in a statf 
of reason. It is reason that engenders self-respect, an 
reflection that confirms it. : it is reason which turns man s 
mind back upon, itself, and divides him from every-/ 
thing that could disturb or afflict him. It is philosophy 
that isolates him, and bids him say, at sight of the mis: 
fortunes of others: "Perish if you will, I am secure." 
Nothing but such general evils as threaten the whole 
community can disturb the tranquil sleep of the philo 
sopher, or tear him from his bed. A murder may with 
impunity be committed under his window; he has only 
to put his hands to his ears and argue a little with him 
self, to prevent nature, which is shocked within him, from 
identifying itself with the unfortunate sufferer. Uncivil 
ised man has not this admirable talent; and for want of 
reason and wisdom, is always foolishly ready to obey the 
first promptings of humanity. It is the populace that 
flocks together at riots and street-brawls, while the wise 
man prudently makes off. It is the mob and the market- 
women, who part the combatants, and hinder gentle-folks 
from cutting one another s throats. 

It is then certain that compassion is a natural feeling, 
which, by moderating the violence of love of self in each 
individual, contributes to the preservation of the whole 
species. It is this compassion that hurries us without 

2OO A Discourse on 

j / reflection to the relief of those who are in distress : it is 
this which in a state of nature supplies the place of laws, 
morals and virtues, with the advantage that none are 
tempted to disobey its gentle voice : it is this which will 
always prevent a sturdy savage from robbing a weak 
child or a feeble old man of the sustenance they may have 

. with pain and difficulty acquired, if he sees a possibility 
of providing for himself by other means : it is this which, 
instead of inculcating that sublime maxim of rational 
justice, Do to others as you would have them do unto you, 
inspires all men with that other maxim of natural good 
ness, much less perfect indeed, but perhaps more useful ; 
Do good to yourself with as little evil as possible to others. 
In a word, it is rather in this natural feeling than in 
any subtle arguments that we must look for the cause of 
that repugnance, which every man would experience in 
doing evil, even independently of the maxims of education. 
Although it might belong to Socrates and other minds of 
the like craft to acquire virtue by reason, the human race 
would long since have ceased to be, had its preservation 
depended only on the reasonings of the individuals com 
posing it. 

With passions so little active, and so good a curb, men, 
being rather wild than wicked, and more intent to guard 

- themselves against the mischief that might be done them, 
than to do mischief to others, were by no means subject 
to very perilous dissensions. They maintained no kind 
of intercourse with one another, and were consequently 
strangers to vanity, deference, esteem and contempt ; they 
had not the least idea of meum and tuum, and no true 
conception of justice; they looked upon every violence to 
which they were subjected, rather as an injury that might 
easily be repaired than as a crime that ought to be 
punished ; and they never thought of taking revenge, 
unless perhaps mechanically and on the spot, as a dog will 
sometimes bite the stone which is thrown at him. Their ; 
quarrels therefore would seldom have very bloody conse 
quences ; for the subject of them would be merely the 
question of subsistence. -Rut._I am aware_ oLixne greater 
danger, which remains to be noticecf. 

Of the passions that stir the heart of man, there is one 
which makes the sexes necessary to each other, and is 

The Origin of Inequality 201 

extremely ardent and impetuous ; a terrible passion that 
braves danger, surmounts all obstacles, and in its trans 
ports seems calculated to bring destruction on the human 
race which it is really destined to preserve. What must 
become of men who are left to this brutal and boundless 
rage, without modesty, without shame, and daily uphold 
ing their amours at the price of their blood? 

It must, in the first place, be allowed that, the more 
violent the passions are, the more are laws necessary to 
keep them under restraint. But, setting aside the inade 
quacy of laws to effect this purpose, which is evident from 
the crimes and disorders to which these passions daily 
give rise among us, we should do well to inquire if these 
evils did not spring up with the laws themselves ; for in 
this case, even if the laws were capable of repressing such 
evils, it is the least that could be expected from them, that 
they should check a mischief which would not have arisen 
without them. 

Let us begin by distinguishing between the physical and 
moral ingredients in the feeling of love. The physical part 
of love is that general desire which urges the sexes to 
union with each other. The moral part is that which 
determines and fixes this desire exclusively upon one 
particular object ; or at least gives it a greater degree of 
energy toward the object thus preferred. It is easy to see 
that the moral part of love is a factitious feeling, born of 
social usage, and enhanced by the women with much care 
and cleverness, to establish their empire, and put in power 
the sex which ought to obey. This feeling, being founded 
on certain ideas of beauty and merit which a savage is not 
in a position to acquire, and on comparisons which he is 
incapable of making, must be for him almost non-existent; 
for, as his mind cannot form abstract ideas of proportion 
and regularity, so his heart is not susceptible of the feel 
ings of love and admIratioln7^wincTr"^l r e~~everi insensibly 
produced by the application of these ideas. He follows 
solely the character nature has implanted in him, and not 
tastes which he could never have acquired ; so that every 
wQmaa..e.o f ually.. answers his purpose. 

Men in a state of nature being confined merely to what 
is physical in love, and fortunate enough to be ignorant 
of those excellences, which whet the appetite while they 

2O2 A Discourse on 

increase the difficulty of gratifying it, must be subject to 
fewer and less violent fits of passion, and consequently fall 
into fewer and less violent disputes. The imagination, 
which causes such ravages among us, never speaks to the 
heart of savages, who quietly await the impulses of nature, 
yield to them involuntarily, with more pleasure than 
ardour, and, their wants once satisfied, lose the desire. 
It is therefore incontestable that love, as well as all other 
passions, must have acquired in society that glowing 
impetuosity, which makes it so often fatal to mankind. 
And it is the more absurd to represent savages as con 
tinually cutting one another s throats to indulge their 
brutality, because this opinion is directly contrary to 
experience; the Caribeans, who have as yet least of all 
deviated from the state of nature, being in fact the most 
peaceable of people in their amours, and the least subject 
to jealousy, though they live in a hot climate which seems 
always to inflame the passions. 

With regard to the inferences that might be drawn, in 
the case of several species of animals, the males of which 
fill our poultry-yards with blood and slaughter, or in 
spring make the forests resound with their quarrels over 
their females; we must begin by excluding all those 
species, in which nature has plainly established, in the 
comparative power of the sexes, relations different from 
those which exist among us : thus we can base no con 
clusion about men on the habits of fighting cocks. In 
those species where the proportion is better observed, these 
battles must be entirely due to the scarcity of females in 
comparison with males ; or, what amounts to the same 
thing, to the intervals during which the female constantly 
refuses the advances of the male : for if each female admits 
the male but during two months in the year, it is the same 
as if the number of females were five-sixths less. Now, 
neither of these two cases is applicable to the human 
species, in which the number of females usually exceeds 
that of males, and among whom it has never been observed, 
even among savages, that the females have, like those of 
other animals, their stated times of passion and indiffer 
ence. Moreover, in several of these species, the individuals 
all take fire at once, and there comes a fearful moment of 
universal passion, tumult and disorder among them ; a 

The Origin of Inequality 203 

scene which is never beheld in the human species, whose 
love is not thus seasonal. We must not then conclude 
from the combats of such animals for the enjoyment of the 
Females, that the case would be the same with mankind 
in a state of nature : and, even if we drew such a con- 
lusion, we see that such contests do not exterminate 
other kinds of animals, and we have no reason to think 
they would be more fatal to ours. It is indeed clear that 
they would do still less mischief than is the case in a state 
of society ; especially in those countries in which, morals 
:>eing still held in some repute, the jealousy of lovers and 
:he vengeance of husbands are the daily cause of duels, 
murders, and even worse crimes ; where the obligation of 
eternal fidelity only occasions adultery, and the very laws 
of honour and continence necessarily increase debauchery 
and lead to the multiplication of abortions. 

.et iis^otti*ttrdg---*kg" that g ^ in a state of nature, 
ndering up and down the forests, without industry, 
without speech, and without home, an equal stranger to 
war and to all ties, neither standing in need of his fellow- 
ireatures nor having any desire to hurt them, and perhaps 
even not distinguishing them one from another; let us 
conclude that, being self-sufficient and subject to so few 
passions, he could have no feelings or knowledge but 
such as befitted his situation ; that he felt only his actual 
necessities, and disregarded everything he did not think 
himself immediately concerned to notice, and that his 
understanding made no greater progress than his vanity. 
If by accident he made any discovery, he was the less 
able to communicate it to others, as he did not know even 
his own children. Every art would necessarily perish with 
its inventor, where there was no kind of education among 
men, and generations succeeded generations without the 
least advance ; when, all setting out from the same point, 
centuries must have elapsed in the barbarism of the first 
ages ; when the race was already old, and man remained 
a child. 

If I have expatiated at such length on this supposed 
primitive state, it is because I had so many ancient errors 
and inveterate prejudices to eradicate, and therefore 
thought it incumbent on me to dig down to their very 
root, and show, by means of a true picture of the state of 

204 A Discourse on 

nature, how far even the natural inequalities of mankim 
are from having that reality and influence which moden 
writers suppose. 

It is in fact easy to see that many of the difference 
which distinguish men are merely the effect of habit am 
the different methods of life men adopt in society. Thu 
a robust or delicate constitution, and the strength o 
weakness attaching to it, are more frequently the effect 
of a hardy or effeminate method of education than of th( 
original endowment of the body. It is the same with th< 
powers of the mind ; for education not only makes a differ 
ence between such as are cultured and such as are not, bu 
even increases the differences which exist among th< 
former, in proportion to their respective degrees o: 
culture : as the distance between a giant and a dwarf or 
the same road increases with every step they take. I! 
we compare the prodigious diversity, which obtains ii 
the education and manner of life of the various orders 
men in the state of society, with the uniformity L 
simplicity of animal and savage life, in which every one 
lives on the same kind of food and in exactly the same 
manner, and does exactly the same things, it is easy tc 
conceive how much less the difference between man and 
man must be in a state of nature than in a state of society, 
and how greatlv_the^ natural inequality of mankind njust be 
increased by the inequalities of social institutions. 

But even if nature really affect"edVTn"tEe distribution oi 
her gifts, that partiality which is imputed to her, what 
advantage would the greatest of her favourites derive from 
it, to the detriment of others, in a state that admits of 
hardly any kind of relation between them? Where there 
is no love, of what advantage is beauty? Of what use is 
wit to those who do not converse, or cunning to those who 
have no business with others? I hear it constantly 
repeated that, in such a state, the strong would oppress 
the weak.; but what is here meant by oppression? Some, 
it is said, would violently domineer over others, who would 
groan under a servile submission to their caprices. This 
indeed is exactly what I observe to be the case among us; 
but I do not see how it can be inferred of men in a state 
of nature, who could not easily be brought to conceive 
what we mean by dominion and servitude. One man, it : 

The Origin of Inequality 205 

true, might seize the fruits which another had gathered, 
the game he had killed, or the cave he had chosen for 
shelter ; but how would he ever be able to exact obedience, 
and what ties of dependence could there be among men 
without possessions? If, for instance, I am driven from 
one tree, I can go to the next ; if I am disturbed in one 
place, what hinders me from going to another? Again, 
should 1 happen to meet with a man so much stronger 
than myself, and at the same time so depraved, so indolent, 
and so barbarous, as to compel me to provide for his sus 
tenance while he himself remains idle ; he must take care 
not to have his eyes off me for a single moment ; he must 
t>ind me fast before he goes to sleep, or I shall certainly 
either knock him on the head or make my escape. That 
is to say, he must in such a case voluntarily expose himself 
to much greater trouble than he seeks to avoid, or can give 
me. After all this, let him be off his guard ever so little; 
let him but turn his head aside at any sudden noise, and 
I shall be instantly twenty paces off, lost in the forest, 
and, my fetters burst asunder, he would never see me 

Without my expatiating thus uselessly on these details, y 
every one must see that as the bonds of servitude are 
formed merely by IKe "mutual dependence b|~ men oil one ) 
another and the reciprocal needs that unite them, it is( 
impossible tft make any man a slave, unless he be first 7 
reduced to a situation in which he cannot do without the ( 
help of others : and, since such a situation does not exist / 
in a state of nature, every one is there his own master/ 
and the law of the strongest is of no effect. 

Having proved that the inequality of mankind is hardly 
felt, and that its influence is next to nothing in a state ot 
nature, I must next. show- its. origin and trace its progress 
in the successive developments of the human mind. Hav 
ing shown that human perfectibility, the Social virtues, 
and the other faculties which natural man potentially 
possessed, could never develop of themselves, but must 
require the fortuitous concurrence of many foreign causes 
that might never arise, and without which he would 
have remained for ever in his primitive condition, I must 
now collect and consider the different accidents which ma} 
r< /c improved the human understanding while depraving 

206 A Discourse on 

the species, and made man wicked while making him 
sociable ; so as to bring him and the world from that 
distant period to the point at which we now behold them 

I confess that, as the events I am going to describe 
might have happened in various ways, I have nothing to 
determine my choice but conjectures : but such conjectures 
become reasons, when they are the most probable that car 
be drawn from the nature of things, and the only meam 
of discovering the truth. The consequences, however 
which I mean to deduce will not be barely conjectural ; as, 
on the principles just laid down, it would be impossible tc 
form any other theory that would not furnish the sarm 
results, and from which I could not draw the same con 

This will be a sufficient apology for my not dwelling 01 
the manner in which the lapse of time compensates for th< 
little probability in the events ; on the surprising power o 
trivial causes, when their action is constant ; on the im 
possibility, on the one hand, of destroying certain hypo 
theses, though on the other we cannot give them th 
certainty of known matters of fact; on its being within th< 
province of history, when two facts are given as real, am 
have to be connected by a series of intermediate facts 
which are unknown or supposed to be so, to supply sue. 
facts as may connect them ; and on its being in the provinc 
of philosophy when history is silent, to determine simila 
facts to serve the same end ; and lastly, on the influeno 
of similarity, which, in the case of events, reduces the fact 
to a much smaller number of different classes than is com it 
monly imagined. It is enough for me to offer these hint id 
to the consideration of my judges, and to have so arrange 
that the general reader has no need to consider ther e. 
at all. p 





The Origin of Inequality 207 


THE first min who, having enclosed a piece of ground, 
bethought himself of saving This is mine, and found 
people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder 
of .civil society. From how many crimes, wars and 
murders", from Tiow many horrors and misfortunes might 
not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the 
stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, 
" Beware of listening to this impostor ; you are undone if 
you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to 
us all, and the earth itself to nobody." But there is 
great probability that things had then already come to 
such a pitch, that they could no longer continue as they 
were ; for the idea of property depends on many prior 
ideas, which could only be acquired successively, and can 
not have been formed all at once in the human mind. 
Mankind must have made very considerable progress, 
and acquired considerable knowledge and industry which 
they must also have transmitted and increased from age 
to age, before they arrived at this last point of the state 
of nature. Let us then go farther back, and endeavour 
to unify under a single point of view that slow succession 
of events and discoveries in the most natural order. 

Man s first feeling was that of his own existence, and 
his first care that of self-preservation. The produce of 
the earth furnished him with all he needed, and instinct 
told him how to use it. Hunger and other appetites made 
him at various times experience various modes of exist 
ence; and among these was one which urged him to pro 
pagate his species a blind propensity that, having nothing 
to do with the heart, produced a merely animal act. The 
want once gratified, the two sexes knew each other no 
more ; and even the offspring was nothing to its mother, 
as soon as it could do without her. 

Such was the condition of infant man ; the life of 
an animal limited at first to mere sensations, and hardly 
profiting by the gifts nature bestowed on him, much less 
capable of entertaining a thought of forcing anything 
from her. But difficulties soon presented themselves, and 

208 A Discourse on 

it became necessary to learn how to surmount them : the 
height of the trees, which prevented him from gathering 
their fruits, the competition of other animals desirous of 
the same fruits, and the ferocity of those who needed them 
for their own preservation, all obliged him to apply himself 
to bodily exercises. He had to be active, swift of foot, 
and vigorous in fight. Natural weapons, stones and sticks, 
were easily found : he learnt to surmount the obstacles of 
nature, to contend in case of necessity with other animals, 
and to dispute for the means of subsistence even with 
other men, or to indemnify himself for what he was forced 
to give up to a stronger. 

In proportion as the human race grew more numerous, 
men s cares increased. The difference of soils, climates 
and seasons, must have introduced some differences into 
their manner of living. Barren years, long and sharp 
winters, scorching summers which parched the fruits of the 
earth, must have demanded a new industry. On the sea 
shore and the banks of rivers, they invented the hook and 
line, and became fishermen and eaters of fish. In the 
forests they made bows and arrows, and became huntsmen 
and warriors. In cold countries they clothed themselves 
with the skins of the beasts they had slain. The lightning, 
a volcano, or some lucky chance acquainted them with fire, 
a new resource against the rigours of winter : they next 
learned how to preserve this element, then how to repro 
duce it, and finally how to prepare with it the flesh of 
animals which before they had eaten raw. 

This repeated relevance of various beings to himself, 
and one to another, would naturally give rise in the human 
mind to the perceptions of certain relations between them. 
Thus the relations which we denote by the terms, great, 
small, strong, weak, swift, slow, fearful, bold, and the 
like, almost insensibly compared at need, must have at 
length produced in him a kind of reflection, or rather a 
mechanical prudence, which would indicate to him the 
precautions most necessary to his security. 

The new intelligence which resulted from this develop 
ment increased his superiority over other animals, by 
making him sensible of it. He would now endeavour, 
therefore, to ensnare them, would play them a thousand 
tricks, and though many of them might surpass him in 

The Origin of Inequality 209 

swiftness or in strength, would in time become the master 
of some and the scourge of others. Thus, the first time 
he looked into himself, he felt the first emotion of pride ; 
and, at a time when he scarce knew how to distinguish 
the different orders of beings, by looking upon his species 
as of the highest order, he prepared the way for assuming 
pre-eminence as an individual. 

Other men, it is true, were not then to him what they 
now are to us, and he had no greater intercourse with 
them than with other animals ; yet they were not neglected 
in his observations. The conformities, which he would in 
time discover between them, and between himself and his 
female, led him to judge of others which were not then 
perceptible ; and finding that they all behaved as he him 
self would have done in like circumstances, he naturally 
inferred that their manner of thinking and acting was 
altogether in conformity with his own. This important 
truth, once deeply impressed on his mind, must have 
induced him, from an intuitive feeling more certain and 
much more rapid than any kind of reasoning, to pursue 
the rules of conduct, which he had best observe towards 
them, for his own security and advantage. A 

Taught by experience that the love of well-being is the 
sole motive of human actions, he found himself in a posi 
tion to distinguish the few cases, in which mutual interest 
might justify him in relying upon the assistance of his 
fellows ; and also the still fewer cases in which a conflict of 
interests might give cause to suspect them. In the former 
case, he joined in the same herd with them, or at most in 
some kind of loose association, that laid no restraint on 
its members, and lasted no longer than the transitory 
occasion that formed it. In the latter case, every one 
sought his own private advantage, either by open force, if 
he thought himself strong enough, or by address and 
cunning, if he felt himself the weaker. 

In this manner, men may have insensibly acquired " 
some gross ideas of mutual undertakings, and of the 
advantages of fulfilling them : that is, just so far as their 
present and apparent interest was concerned : for they 
were perfect strangers to foresight, and were so far from 
troubling themselves about the distant future, that they 
hardly thought of the morrow. If a deer was to be taken, 

R 66o 

2io A Discourse on 

every one saw that, in order to succeed, he must abide 
faithfully by his post : but if a hare happened to come 
within the reach of any one of them, it is not to be doubted 
that he pursued it without scruple, and, having seized his. 
prey, cared very little, if by so doing he caused his com 
panions to miss theirs. 

It is easy to understand that such intercourse would not 
require a language much more refined than that of rook. 
or monkeys, who associate together for much the sarm 
purpose. Inarticulate cries, plenty of gestures and somt 
imitative sounds, must have been for a long time the 
universal language ; and by the addition, in every country 
of some conventional articulate sounds (of which, as . 
have already intimated, the first institution is not too eas} 
to explain) particular languages were produced ; but thesi 
were rude and imperfect, and nearly such as are now tc 
be found among some savage nations. 

Hurried on by the rapidity of time, by the abundance ol 
things I have to say, and by the almost insensible progress 
of things in their beginnings, I pass over in an instant i 
multitude of ages ; for the slower the events were in their 
succession, the more rapidly may they be described. 

These first advances enabled men to make others wit? 
greater rapidity. In proportion as they grew enlightened 
they grew industrious. They ceased to fall asleep undo 
the first tree, or in the first cave that afforded therr 
shelter ; they invented several kinds of implements of hare 
and sharp stones, which they used to dig up the earth, 
and to cut wood ; they then made huts out of branches, anc 
afterwards learnt to plaster them over with mud and clay. 
This was the epoch of a first revolution, which established 
and distinguished families, and introduced a kind of 
property, in itself the source of a thousand quarrels and 
conflicts. As, however, the strongest were probably the 
first to build themselves huts which they felt themselves 
able to defend, it may be concluded that the weak found 
it much easier and safer to imitate, than to attempt to 
dislodge them : and of those who were once provided with 
huts, none could have any inducement to appropriate that 
of his neighbour; not indeed so much because it did not 
belong to him, as because it could be of no use, and he 
could not make himself master of it without exposing 

The Origin of Inequality 211 

himself to a desperate battle with the family which 
occupied it. 

The first expansions of the human heart were the effects 
of a novel situation, which united husbands and wives, 
fathers and children, under one roof. The habit of living 
together soon gave rise to the finest feelings known to 
humanity, conjugal love and paternal affection. Every 
family became a little society, the more united because 
liberty and reciprocal attachment were the only bonds 
of its union. The sexes, whose manner of life had been 
hitherto the same, began now to adopt different ways of 
living. The women became more sedentary, and accus 
tomed themselves to mind the hut and their children, 
while the men went abroad in search of their common 
subsistence. From living a softer life, both sexes also 
began to lose something of their strength and ferocity : 
but, if individuals became to some extent less able to 
encounter wild beasts separately, they found it, on the 
other hand, easier to assemble and resist in common. 

The simplicity and solitude of man s life in this new 
condition, the paucity of his wants, and the implements 
he had invented to satisfy them, left him a great deal of 
leisure, which he employed to furnish himself with many 
conveniences unknown to his fathers : and this was the 
first yoke he inadvertently imposed on himself, and the 
first source of the evils he prepared for his descendants. 
For, besides continuing thus to enervate both body and 
mind, these conveniences lost with use almost all their 
power to please, and even degenerated into real needs, 
till the want of them became far more disagreeable than 
the possession of them had been pleasant. Men would 
have been unhappy at the loss of them, though the 
possession did not make them happy. 

We can here see a little better how the use of speech 
became established, and insensibly improved in eac*^ 
family, and we may form a conjecture also concerning the 
manner in which various causes may have extended and 
accelerated the progress of language, by making it more 
and more necessary. Floods or earthquakes surrounded 
inhabited districts with precipices or waters : revolutions 
of the globe tore off portions from the continent, and made 
them islands. It is readily seen that among men thus 

212 A Discourse on 

collected and compelled to live together, a common idiom 
must have arisen much more easily than among those who 
still wandered through the forests of the continent. Thus 
it is very possible that after their first essays in naviga 
tion the islanders brought over the use of speech to the 
continent : and it is at least very probable that communi 
ties and languages were first established in islands, and 
even came to perfection there before they were known on 
the mainland. 

Everything now begins to change its aspect. Men, 
who have up to now been roving in the woods, by taking 
to a more settled manner of life, come gradually together, 
form separate bodies, and at length in every country arises 
a distinct nation, united in character and manners, not by 
regulations or laws, but by uniformity of life and food, 
and the common influence of climate. Permanent neigh 
bourhood could not fail to produce, in time, some connec 
tion between different families. Among young people of 
opposite sexes, living in neighbouring huts, the transient 
commerce required by nature soon led, through mutual 
intercourse, to another kind not less agreeable, and more 
permanent. Men began now to take the difference between 
objects into account, and to make comparisons ; they 
acquired imperceptibly the ideas of beauty and merit, 
which soon gave rise to feelings of preference. In con 
sequence of seeing each other often, they could not do 
without seeing each other constantly. A tender and plea 
sant feeling insinuated itself into their souls, and the least 
opposition turned it into an impetuous fury : with love 
arose jealousy ; discord triumphed, and human blood was 
sacrificed to the gentlest of all passions. 

As ideas and feelings succeeded one another, and heart 
and head were brought into play, men continued to lay 
aside their original wildness; their private connections 
became every day more intimate as their limits extended. 
They accustomed themselves to assemble before their huts 
round a large tree ; singing and dancing, the true offspring 
of love and leisure, became the amusement, or rather the 
occupation, of men and women thus assembled together 
with nothing else to do. Each one began to consider the 
rest, and to wish to be considered in turn ; and thus a 
value came to be attached to public esteem. Whoever 

The Origin of Inequality 213 

sang or danced best, whoever was the handsomest, the 
strongest, the most dexterous, or the most eloquent, came 
to be of most consideration ; and this was the first step ^ 
towards inequality, and at the same time towards 
vice. From these first distinctions arose on the one side 
vanity and contempt and on the other shame and envy : 
and the fermentation caused by these new leavens ended 
by producing combinations fatal to innocence and happiness. 

As soon as men began to value one another, and the 
idea of consideration had got a footing in the mind, every 
one put in his claim to it, and it became impossible to 
refuse it to any with impunity. Hence arose the first 
obligations of civility even among savages ; and every 
intended injury became an affront ; because, besides the -^ 
hurt which might result from it, the party injured was 
certain to find in it a contempt for his person, which was 
often more insupportable than the hurt itself. 

Thus, as every man punished the contempt shown him 
by others, in proportion to his opinion of himself, revenge 
became terrible, and men bloody and cruel. This is 
precisely the state reached by most of the savage nations 
known to us : and it is for want of having made a proper 
distinction in our ideas, and seen how very far they already 
are from the state of nature, that so many writers have > 
hastily concluded that man is naturally cruel, and requiresC~*\. 
civil institutions to make him more mild ; whereas nothing 
is more gentle than man in his primitive state, as he is 
placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity 
of brutes, and the fatal ingenuity of civilised man. Equally 
confined by instinct and reason to the sole care of guard 
ing himself against the mischiefs which threaten him, he 
is restrained by natural compassion from doing any injury 
to others, and is not led to do such a thing even in return 
for injuries received. For, according to the axiom of the 
wise Locke, There can be no injury, where there is no 

But it must be remarked that the society thus formed, 
and the relations thus established among men, required 
of them qualities different from those which they pos 
sessed from their primitive constitution. Morality began 
to appear in human actions, and every one, before the 
institution of law, was the only judge and avenger of 

214 A Discourse on 

the injuries done him, so that the goodness which was 
suitable in the pure state of nature was no longer proper 
in the new-born state of society. Punishments had to be 
made more severe, as opportunities of offending became 
more frequent, and the dread of vengeance had to take 
the place of the rigour of the law. Thus, though men 
had become less patient, and their natural compassion 
had already suffered some diminution, this period of 
expansion of the human faculties, keeping a just mean 
between the indolence of the primitive state and the 
petulant activity of our egoism, must have been the hap 
piest and most stable of epochs. The more we reflect on 
it, the more we shall find that this state was the leasl 
subject to revolutions, and altogether the very best man 
could experience ; so that he can have departed from it 
only through some fatal accident, which, for the public 
good, should never have happened. The example ol 
savages, most of whom have been found in this state, 
seems to prove that men were meant to remain in it, that 
it is the real youth of the world, and that all subsequent 
advances have been apparently so many steps towards 
the perfection of the individual, but in reality towards the 
decrepitude of the species. 

I So long as men remained content with their rustic huts, 
so long as they were satisfied with clothes made of the 
skins of animals and sewn together with thorns and fish 
bones, adorned themselves only with feathers and shells, 
and continued to paint their bodies different colours, to im 
prove and beautify their bows and arrows and to make with 
sharp-edged stones fishing boats or clumsy musical instru 
ments ; in a word, so long as they undertook only what a 
single person could accomplish, and confined themselves to 
such arts as did not require the joint labour of several 
hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy lives, so 
long as their nature allowed, and as they continued to 
enjoy the pleasures of mutual and independent intercourse. 
But from the moment one ma-n. began to stand in, npfH of 
theJielp of- another; from the moment ifappeared advan 
tageous to any one man to have enough provisions for 
two, equality, .disappeared, property was introduced, work- 
became indispensable^ and vast forests became smiling 
fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his 

The Origin of Inequality 215 

brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to 
germinate and grow up with the crops. 

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whiclT 
produced this great revolution. The poets tell us it wrs 
gold and silver, but, for the philosophers, it was iron and 
corn, which first civilised men, and ruined humanity. Thus 
both were unknown to the savages of America, who for 
that reason are still savage : the other nations also seem 
to have continued in a state of barbarism while they 
practised only one of these arts. One of the best reasons, 
perhaps, why Europe has been, if not longer, at least more 
constantly and highly civilised than the rest of the world, 
is that it is at once the most abundant in iron and the 
most fertile in corn. 

It is difficult to conjecture how men first came to know 
and use iron ; for it is impossible to suppose they would 
of themselves think of digging the ore out of the mine, 
and preparing it for smelting, before they knew what 
would be the result. On the other hand, we have the less 
reason to suppose this discovery the effect of any accidental 
fire, as mines are only formed in barren places, bare of 
trees and plants ; so that it looks as if nature had taken 
pains to keep the fatal secret from us. There remains, 
therefore, only the extraordinary accident of some volcano 
which, by ejecting metallic substances already in fusion, 
suggested to the spectators the idea of imitating the 
natural operation. And we must further conceive them as 
possessed of uncommon courage and foresight, to under 
take so laborious a work, with so distant a prospect of 
drawing advantage from it ; yet these qualities are united 
only in minds more advanced than we can suppose those 
of these first discoverers to have been. 

With regard to agriculture, the principles of it were 
known long before they were put in practice ; and it is 
indeed hardly possible that men, constantly employed in 
drawing their subsistence from plants and trees, should 
not readily acquire a knowledge of the means made use of 
by nature for the propagation of vegetables. It was in all 
probability very long, however, before their industry took 
that turn, either because trees, which together with hunt- 
ing and fishing afforded them food, did not require their 
attention ; or because they were ignorant of the use of 

216 A Discourse on 

corn, or without instruments to cultivate it; or because 
they lacked foresight to future needs; or lastly, because 
they were without means of preventing others from 
robbing them of the fruit of their labour. 

When they grew more industrious, it is natural to believe 
that they began, with the help of sharp stones and pointec 
sticks, to cultivate a few vegetables or roots around their 
huts ; though it was long before they knew how to prepare 
corn, or were provided with the implements necessary for 
raising it in any large quantity ; not to mention how 
essential it is, for husbandry, to consent to immediate 
loss, in order to reap a future gain a precaution very 
foreign to the turn of a savage s mind ; for, as I have said, 
he hardly foresees in the morning what he will need at 

The invention of the other arts must therefore have 
been necessary to compel mankind to apply themselves 
to agriculture. No sooner were artificers wanted to smelt 
and forge iron, than others were required to maintain 
them ; the more hands that were employed in manufactures, 
the fewer were left to provide for the common subsistence, 
though the number of mouths to be furnished with food 
remained the same : and as some required commodities in 
exchange for their iron, the rest at length discovered the 
method of making iron serve for the multiplication of 
commodities. By this means the arts of husbandry and 
agriculture were established on the one hand, and the art 
of working metals and multiplying their uses on the other. 

The cultivation of the earth necessarily brought about 
its distribution ; and property, once recognised, gave rise 
to the first rules of justice; for, to secure each man hi? 
own, it had to be possible for each to have something. 
Besides, as men began to look forward to the future, and 
all had something to lose, every one had reason to appre 
hend that reprisals would follow any injury he might dc 
to another. This origin is so much the more natural, as 
it is impossible to conceive how property can come from 
anything but manual labour : for what else can a man adc 
to things which he does not originally create, so as tc 
make them his own property? It is the husbandman s 
labour alone that, giving him a title to the produce of the 
ground he has tilled, gives him a claim also to the lane 

The Origin of Inequality 217 

itself, at least till harvest ; and so, from year to year, a con 
stant possession which is easily transformed into property. 
When the ancients, says Grotius, gave to Ceres the title 
of Legislatrix, and to a festival celebrated in her honour 
the name of Thesmophoria, they meant by that that the 
distribution of lands had produced a new kind of right : 
that is to say, the right of property, which is different 
from the right deducible from the law of nature. 

In this state of affairs, equality might have been sus 
tained, had the talents of individuals been equal, and 
had, for example, the use of iron and the consumption 
of commodities always exactly balanced each other ; but, 
as there was nothing to preserve this balance, it was 
soon disturbed; the strongest did most work; the most 
skilful turned his labour to best account; the most ingeni 
ous devised methods of diminishing his labour : the hus 
bandman wanted more iron, or the smith more corn, and, 
while both laboured equally, the one gained a great deal 
by his work, while the other could hardly support himself. 
Thus natural inequality unfolds itself insensibly with that 
of combination, and the difference between men, developed 
by their different circumstances, becomes more sensible 
and permanent in its effects, and begins to have an in 
fluence, in the same proportion, over the lot of individuals. 

Matters once at this pitch, it is easy to imagine the rest. 
I shall not detain the reader with a description of the 
successive invention of other arts, the development of 
language, the trial and utilisation of talents, the inequality 
of fortunes, the use and abuse of riches, and all the details 
connected with them which the reader can easily supply for 
himself. I shall confine myself to a glance at mankind 
in this new situation. 

Behold then all human faculties developed, memory and 
imagination in full play, egoism interested, reason active, 
and the mind almost at the highest point of its perfection. 
Behold all the natural qualities in action, the rank and 
condition of every man assigned him ; not merely his share 
of property and his power to serve or injure others, but 
also his wit, beauty, strength or skill, merit or talents : 
and these being the only qualities capable of commanding 
respect, it soon became necessary to possess or to affect 

- JS j 

218 A Discourse on <* 

It now became the interest of men to appear what they 
really were not. To be and to seem became two totally 
different thing s; and from this distinction sprang insolent 
pomp and cheating trickery, with all the numerous vices 
that go in their train. On the other hand, J[ree-andusde- 
pendent as men were before, they were now^Jn eoase- 
quence of a multiplicity of new wants, brought into sub- 
jection, as it were, to all iiatun5"JIarndl!p^ticularl^_ia v one" 
another ; and each became in some degree a~sfave evenSn 
becoming the master of other men : if rich, they stood 
in need of the services of others ; if poor, of their assist 
ance ; and even a middle condition did not enable them to 
do without one another. Man must now, therefore, have 
been perpetually employed in getting others to interest 
themselves in his lot, and in making them, apparently at 
least, if not really, find their advantage in promoting his 
own. Thus he must have been sly and artful in his 
behaviour to some, and imperious and cruel to others ; 
being under a kind of necessity to ill-use all the persons 
of whom he stood in need, when he could not frighten 
them into compliance, and did not judge it his interest to 
be useful to them. Insatiable ambition, the thirst of rais 
ing their respective fortunes, not so much from real want 
as from the desire to surpass others, inspired all men with 
a vile propensity to injure one another, and with a secret 
jealousy, which is the more dangerous, as it puts on the 
mask of benevolence, to carry its point with greater 
security. In a word, there arose rivalry and competition 
on the one hand, and conflicting interests on the other, 
together with a secret desire on both of profiting at the 
expense of others. All these evils were the first effects of 
property, and the inseparable attendants of growing 

Before the invention of signs to represent riches, wealth 
could hardly consist in anything but lands and cattle, the 
only real possessions men can have. But, when inheritances 
so increased in number and extent as to occupy the whole 
of the land, and to border on one another, one man could 
aggrandise himself only at the expense of another; at the 
same time the supernumeraries, who had been too weak 
or too indolent to make such acquisitions, and had grown 
poor without sustaining- any loss, because, while they saw 

The Origin of Inequality 219 

everything change around them, they remained still the 
same, were obliged to receive their subsistence, or steal 
it, from the rich ; and this soon bred, according to their 
different characters, dominion and slavery, or violence and 
rapine. The wealthy, on their part, had no sooner begun 
to taste the pleasure of command, than they disdained 
all others, and, using their old slaves to acquire new, 
thought of nothing but subduing and enslaving their 
neighbours ; like ravenous wolves, which, having once 
tasted human flesh, despise every other food and thence 
forth seek only men to devour. 

Thus, as the most powerful or the most miserable con 
sidered their might or misery as a kind of right to the 
possessions of others, equivalent, in their opinion, to that 
of property, the destruction of equality was attended 
the most terrible disorders. Usurpations by the rich T 
robbery by the poor, and the unbridled passiops of both , 
suppressed the cries of natural compassion and fop still 
feCCTe"voicig of justice^ari^rTTrred men with avarice^ ambition 
and vice. Between the title of the strongest and that of 
the first occupier, there arose perpetual conflicts, which 
never ended but in battles and bloodshed. The new-born i 
state of society thus gave rise to" a horrible state of war;j 
men thus harassed and depraved were no longer capable 
of retracing their steps or renouncing the fatal acquisi 
tions they had made, but, labouring by the abuse of the 
faculties which do them honour, merely to their own 
confusion, brought themselves to the brink of ruin. 

Attonitus novitate mall, divpsqite miser que, 
Effugere optai opes ; et qua modd vovcrat odit. 1 

It is impossible that men should not at length have 
reflected on so wretched a situation, and on the calamities 
that overwhelmed them. The rich, in particular, must 
have felt how much they suffered by a constant state of 
war, of which they bore all the expense; and in which, 
though all risked their lives, they alone risked their pro 
perty. Besides, however speciously they might disguise 

1 [Ovid, Metamorphoses xi, 127. 

Both rich and poor, shocked at their new-found ills, 
Would fly from wealth, and lose what they had sought.] 

220 A Discourse on 

their usurpations, they knew that they were founded on pre 
carious and false titles; so that, if others took from them 
by force what they themselves had gained by force, they 
would have no reason to complain. Even those who had 
been enriched by their own industry, could hardly base 
their proprietorship on better claims. It was in vain to 
repeat, " I built this well ; I gained this spot by my 
industry." Who gave you your standing, it might be 
answered, and what right have you to demand payment 
of us for doing what we never asked you to do? Do you 
not know that numbers of your fellow-creatures are starv 
ing, for want of what you have too much of? You ought 
to have had the express and universal consent of mankind, 
before appropriating more of the common subsistence than 
you needed for your own maintenance. Destitute of valid 
reasons to justify and sufficient strength to defend himself, 
able to crush individuals with ease, but easily crushed 
himself by a troop of bandits, one against all, and incap 
able, on account of mutual jealousy, of joining with his 
equals against numerous enemies united by the common 
hope of plunder, the rich man, thus urged by necessity, 
conceived at length the profoundest plan that ever entered 
the mind of man : this was to employ in his favour the 
forces of those who attacked him, to make allies of his 
adversaries, to inspire them with different maxims, and 
to give them other institutions as favourable to himself 
as the law of nature xvas unfavourable. 

With this view, after having represented to his neigh 
bours the horror of a situation which armed every man 
against the rest, and made their possessions as burdensome 
to them as their wants, and in which no safety could be 
ejxpected either in riches or in poverty, he readily devised 
plausible arguments to make them close with his design. 
Let us join," said he, "to guard the weak from oppres 
sion, to restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man 
the possession of what belongs to him : let us institute 
rules of justice and peace, to which all without exception 
may be obliged to conform ; rules that may in some 
measure make amends for the caprices of fortune, by 
subjecting equally the powerful and the weak to the 
observance of reciprocal obligations. Let us, in a word, 
instead of turning our forces against ourselves, collect 


The Origin of Inequality 221 

them in a supreme power which may govern us by wise 
laws, protect and defend all the members of the associa 
tion, repulse their common enemies, and maintain eternal 
harmony among us." 

Far fewer words to this purpose would have been 
enough to impose on men so barbarous and easily seduced ;^ 
especially as they had too many disputes among theiru 
selves to do without arbitrators, and too much ambition^ 
and avarice to go long without masters. All ran head- 
long to their chains, in hopes of securing their liberty ; ^ , 
for they had just wit enough to perceive the advantages of, 
political institutions, without experience enough to enable^ 
them to foresee the dangers. The most capable of fore 
seeing the dangers were the very persons who expected < 
to benefit by them ; and even the most prudent judged it 
not inexpedient to sacrifice one part of their freedom to 
ensure the rest; as a wounded man has his arm cut off to 
save the rest of his body. 

Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and 
law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new 
powers to the rich ; which irretrievably destroyed natural 
liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, 
converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, 
for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected . 
all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery and wretched 
ness. It is easy to see how the establishment of one 
community made that of all the rest necessary, and how, 
in order to make head against united forces, the rest of 
mankind had to unite in turn. Societies soon multiplied 
and spread over the face of the earth, till hardly a corner 
of the world was left in which a man could escape the 
yoke, and withdraw his head from beneath the sword 
which he saw perpetually hanging over him by a thread. 
Civil right having thus become the common rule among 
the members of each community, the law of nature main 
tained its place only between different communities, where, 
under the name of the right of nations, it was qualified 
by certain tacit conventions, in order to make commerce 
practicable, and serve as a substitute for natural compas 
sion, which lost, when applied to societies, almost all the 
influence it had over individuals, and survived no longer 
except in some great cosmopolitan spirits, who, breaking 

222 A Discourse on 

down the imaginary barriers that separate different 
peoples, follow the example of our Sovereign Creator, and 
include the whole human race in their benevolence. 

But bodies politic, remaining thus in a state of nature 
among themselves, presently experienced the inconveni 
ences which had obliged individuals to forsake it; for this 
state became still more fatal to these great bodies than 
it had been to the individuals of whom they were com 
posed. Hence arose national wars, battles, murders, and 
reprisals, which shock nature and outrage reason ; together 
with all those horrible prejudices which class among the 
virtues the honour of shedding human blood. The most 
distinguished men hence learned to consider cutting each 
other s throats a duty; at length men massacred their 
fellow-creatures by thousands without so much as know 
ing why, and committed more murders in a single day s 
fighting, and more violent outrages in the sack of a 
single town, than were committed in the state of nature 
during whole ages over the whole earth. Such were the 
first effects which we can see to have followed the division 
of mankind into different communities. But let us return 
to their institutions. 

I know that some writers have given other explanations 
of the origin of political societies, such as the conquest of 
the powerful, or the association of the weak. It is, indeed, 
indifferent to my argument which of these causes we 
choose. That which I have iust laid down, however, 
appears to me the most natural for the following reasons. 
First : because, in the first case, the right of conquest, 
being no right in itself, could not serve as a foundation 
on which to build any other ; the victor and the vanquished 
people still remained with respect to each other in the 
state of war, unless the vanquished, restored to the full 
possession of their liberty voluntarily made choice of the 
victor for their chief. For till then, whatever capitulation 
may have been made being founded on violence, and 
therefore ipso facto void, there could not have been on 
this hypothesis either a real society or body politic, or any 
law other than that of the strongest. Secondly 1 : because 
the words strong and weak are, in the second case, am 
biguous ; for during the interval between the establishment 
of a right of property, or prior occupancy, and that of 

The Origin of Inequality 223 

political government, the meaning of these words is better 
expressed by the terms rich and poor: because, in fact, 
before the institution of laws, men had no other way of 
reducing their equals to submission, than by attacking 
their goods, or making some of their own over to them. 
Thirdly : because, as the poor had nothing but their free 
dom to lose, it would have been in the highest degree 
absurd for them to resign voluntarily the only good they 
still enjoyed, without getting anything in exchange : 
whereas the rich having feelings, if I may so express 
myself, in every part of their possessions, it was much 
easier to harm them, and therefore more necessary for 
them to take precautions against it; and, in short, because 
it is more reasonable to suppose a thing to have been 
invented by those to whom it would be of service, than 
by those whom it must have harmed. 

Government had, in its infancy, no regular and con 
stant form. The want of experience and philosophy pre 
vented men from seeing any but present inconveniences, 
and they thought of providing against others only as they 
presented themselves. In spite of the endeavours o f the 
wisest legislators, the political state remained imperfect, 
because it was little more than the work of chance; and, 
as it had begun ill, though time revealed its defects and 
suggested remedies, the original faults were never 
repaired. It was continually being patched up, when the 
first task should have been to get the site cleared and all 
the old materials removed, as was done by Lycurgus at 
Sparta, if a stable and lasting edifice was to be erected. 
Society consisted at first merely of a few general conven 
tions, which every member bound himself to observe ; and 
for the performance of covenants the whole body went 
security to each individual. Experience only could show 
the weakness of such a constitution, and how easily it 
might be infringed with impunity, from the difficulty of 
convicting men of faults, where the public alone was to 
be witness and judge : the laws could not but be eluded in 
many ways ; disorders and inconveniences could not but 
multiply continually, till it became necessary to commit 
the dangerous trust of public authority to private persons, 
and the care of enforcing obedience to the deliberations 
of the people to the magistrate. For to say that chiefs 

224 A Discourse on 

were chosen before the confederacy was formed, and that 
the administrators of the laws were there before the laws 
themselves, is too absurd a supposition to consider 

It would be as unreasonable to suppose that men at first 
threw themselves irretrievably and unconditionally into 
the arms of an absolute master, and that the first expedient 
which proud and unsubdued men hit upon for their com 
mon security was to run headlong into slavery. For what 
reason, in fact, did they take to themselves superiors, if 
it was not in order that they might be defended from 
oppression, and have protection for their lives, liberties 
and properties, which are, so to speak, the constituent 
elements of their being? Now, in the relations between 
man and man, the worst that can happen is for one to 
find himself at the mercy of another, and it would have 
been inconsistent with common-sense to begin by bestow 
ing on a chief the only things they wanted his help to pre 
serve. What equivalent could he offer them for so great 
a right? And if he had presumed to exact it under pretext 
of defending them, would he not have received the answer 
recorded in the fable : " What more can the enemy do to 
us?" It is therefore beyond dispute, and indeed the 
fundamental maxim of all political right, that people have 
set up chiefs to protect their liberty, and not to enslave 
them. // ive have a prince, said Pliny to Trajan, it is to 
save ourselves from having a master. 

Politicians indulge in the same sophistry about the love 
of liberty as philosophers about the state of nature. They 
judge, by what they see, of very different things, which 
they have not seen ; and attribute to man a natural pro 
pensity to servitude, because the slaves within their 
observation are seen to bear the yoke with patience ; they 
fail to reflect that it is with liberty as with innocence and 
virtue; the value is known only to those who possess them, 
and the taste for them is forfeited when they are forfeited 
themselves. "I know the charms of your country," said 
Brasidas to a Satrap, who was comparing the life at 
Sparta with that at Persepolis, "but you cannot know the 
pleasures of mine." 

An unbroken horse erects his mane, paws the ground 
and starts back impetuously at the sight of the bridle ; 

The Origin of Inequality 225 

while one which is properly trained suffers patiently even 
whip and spur : so savage man will not bend his neck to 
the yoke to which civilised man submits without a mur 
mur, but prefers the most turbulent state of liberty to the 
most peaceful slavery. We cannot therefore, from the 
servility of nations already enslaved, judge of the natural 
disposition of mankind for or against slavery ; we should 
go by the prodigious efforts of every free people to save 
itself from oppression. I know that the former are 
for ever holding forth in praise of the tranquillity they 
enjoy in their chains, and that they call a state of wretched 
servitude a state of peace : miserrimam servitutem pacem 
appellant. 1 But when I observe the latter sacrificing 
pleasure, peace, wealth, power and life itself to the pre 
servation of that one treasure, which is so disdained by 
those who have lost it ; when I see free-born animals dash 
their brains out against the bars of their cage, from an 
innate impatience of captivity ; when I behold numbers 
of naked savages, that despise European pleasures, brav 
ing hunger, fire, the sword and death, to preserve nothing 
but their independence, I feel that it is not for slaves to 
argue about liberty. 

With regard to paternal authority, from which some 
writers have derived absolute government and all society, 
it is enough, without going back to the contrary argu 
ments of Locke and Sidney, to remark that nothing on 
earth can be further from the ferocious spirit of despotism 
than the mildness of that authority which looks more to 
the advantage of him who obeys than to that of him who 
commands ; that, by the law of nature, the father is the 
child s master no longer than his help is necessary; that 
from that time they are both equal, the son being perfectly 
independent of the father, and owing him only respect 
and not obedience. For gratitude is a duty which ought 
to be paid, but not a right to be exacted : instead of saying 
that civil society is derived from paternal authority, we 
ought to say rather that the latter derives its principal 
force from the former. No individual was ever acknow 
ledged as the father of many, till his sons and daughters 
remained settled around him. The goods of the father, 

1 [Tacitus, Hist, iv, 17. The most wretched slavery they call peace.] 

226 A Discourse on 

of which he is really the master, are the ties which keep 
his children in dependence, and he may bestow on them, 
if he pleases, no share of his property, unless they merit 
it by constant deference to his will. But the subjects of 
an arbitrary despot are so far from having the like favour 
to expect from their chief, that they themselves and every 
thing they possess are his property, or at least are con 
sidered by him as such ; so that they are forced to receive, 
as a favour, the little of their own he is pleased to leave 
them. When he despoils them, he does but justice, and 
mercy in that he permits them to live. 

By proceeding thus to test fact by right, we should 
discover as little reason as truth in the voluntary estab 
lishment of tyranny. It would also be no easy matter to 
prove the validity of a contract binding on only one of 
the parties, where all the risk is on one side, and none 
on the other ; so that no one could suffer but he who 
bound himself. This hateful system is indeed, even in 
modern times, very far from being that of wise and good 
monarchs, and especially of the kings of France ; as may 
be seen from several passages in their edicts ; particularly 
from the following passage in a celebrated edict published 
in 1667 in the name and by order of Louis XIV. 

"Let it not, therefore, be said that the Sovereign is not 
subject to the laws of his State ; since the contrary is a 
true proposition of the right of nations, which flattery has 
sometimes attacked but good princes have always de 
fended as the tutelary divinity of their dominions. How 
much more legitimate is it to say with the wise Plato, 
that the perfect felicity of a kingdom consists in the 
obedience of subjects to their prince, and of the prince to 
the laws, and in the laws being just and constantly directed 
to the public good ! " 1 

I shall not stay here to inquire whether, as liberty is 
the noblest faculty of man, it is not degrading our very 
nature, reducing ourselves to the level of the brutes, 
which are mere slaves of instinct, and even an affront to i 
the Author of our being, to renounce without reserve the i 
most precious of all His gifts, and to bow to the necessity ( 

1 Of the Right* of the Most Christian Queen ovei various States of the t 
Monarchy of Spain, 1667. 

The Origin of Inequality 227 

of committing- all the crimes He has forbidden, merely to 
gratify a mad or a cruel master ; or if this sublime 
craftsman ought not to be less angered at seeing His 
workmanship entirely destroyed than thus dishonoured. 
I will waive (if my opponents please) the authority of 
Barbeyrac, who, following Locke, roundly declares that 
no man can so far sell his liberty as to submit to an 
arbitrary power which may use him as it likes. For, he 
adds, this would be to sell his own life, of which he is 
not master. I shall ask only what right those who were 
not afraid thus to debase themselves could have to subject 
their posterity to the same ignominy, and to renounce for 
them those blessings which they do not owe to the liberality 
of their progenitors, and without which life itself must be 
a burden to all who are worthy of it. 

Puffendorf says that we may divest ourselves of our 
liberty in favour of other men, just as we transfer our 
property from one to another by contracts and agreements. 
But this seems a very weak argument. For in the first 
place, the property I alienate becomes quite foreign to 
me, nor can I suffer from the abuse of it; but it very 
nearly concerns me that my liberty should not be abused, 
and I cannot without incurring the guilt of the crimes 
I may be compelled to commit, expose myself to become 
an instrument of crime. Besides, the right of property 
being only a convention of human institution, men may 
dispose of what they possess as they please : but this is 
not the case with the essential gifts of nature, such as life 
and liberty, which every man is permitted to enjoy, and 
of which it is at least doubtful whether any have a right 
to divest themselves. By giving up the one, we degrade 
our being ; by giving up the other, we do our best to 
annul it; and, as no temporal good can indemnify us for 
the loss of either, it would be an offence against both 
reason and nature to renounce them at any price whatso 
ever. But, even if we could transfer our liberty, as we 
do our property, there would be a great difference with 
regard to the children, who enjoy the father s substance 
only by the transmission of his right ; whereas, liberty 
being a gift which they hold from nature as being men, 
their parents have no right whatever to deprive them of 
it. As then, to establish slavery, it was necessary to do 

228 A Discourse on 

violence to nature, so, in order to perpetuate such a right, 
nature would have to be changed. Jurists, who have 
gravely determined that the child of a slave comes into 
the world a slave, have decided, in other words, that a 
man shall come into the world not a man. 

1 regard it then as certain, that government did not 
begin with arbitrary power, but that this is the deprava 
tion, the extreme term, of government, and brings it back, 
finally, to just the law of the strongest, which it was 
originally designed to remedy. Supposing, however, it 
had begun in this manner, such power, being in itself 
illegitimate, could not have served as a basis for the laws 
of society, nor, consequently, for the inequality they 

Without entering at present upon the investigations 
n which still remain to be made into the nature of the 
fundamental compact underlying all government, 1 con 
tent myself with adopting the common opinion concerning 
it, and regard the establishment of the political body as 
a real contract between the people and the chiefs, chosen 
by them : a contract by which both parties bind them 
selves to observe the laws therein expressed, which form 
the ties of their union. The people having in respect of 
their social relations concentrated all their wills in one, 
the several articles, concerning which this will is explained, 
become so many fundamental laws, obligatory on all the 
members of the State without exception, and one of these 
articles regulates the choice and power of the magistrates 
appointed to watch over the execution of the rest. This 
power extends to everything which may maintain the 
constitution, without going so far as to alter it. It is 
accompanied by honours, in order to bring the laws and 
their administrators into respect. The ministers are also 
distinguished by personal prerogatives, in order to recom 
pense them for the cares and labour which good adminis 
tration involves. The magistrate, on his side, binds 
himself to use the power he is entrusted with only in 
conformity with the intention of his constituents, to 
maintain them all in the peaceable possession of what 
belongs to them, and to prefer on every occasion the 
public interest to his own. 

Before experience had shown, or knowledge of the 

The Origin of Inequality 229 

human heart enabled men to foresee, the unavoidable 
abuses of such a constitution, it must have appeared so much 
the more excellent, as those who were charged with the 
care of its preservation had themselves most interest in 
it; for magistracy and the rights attaching to it being 
based solely on the fundamental laws, the magistrates 
would cease to be legitimate as soon as these ceased to 
exist ; the people would no longer owe them obedience ; 
and as not the magistrates, but the laws, are essential 
to the being of a State, the members of it would regain 
the right to their natural liberty. 

If we reflect with ever so little attention on this subject, 
we shall find new arguments to confirm this truth, and be 
convinced from the very nature of the contract that it cannot 
be irrevocable : for, if there were no superior power capable 
of ensuring the fidelity of the contracting parties, or com 
pelling them to perform their reciprocal engagements, the 
parties would be s61e judges in their own cause, and each 
would always have a right to renounce the contract, as soon 
as he found that the other had violated its terms, or that 
they no longer suited his convenience. It is upon this prin 
ciple that the right of abdication may possibly be founded. 
Now, if, as here, we consider only what is human in this in 
stitution, it is certain that, if the magistrate, who has all the 
power in his own hands, and appropriates to himself all the 
advantages of the contract, has none the less a right to 
renounce his authority, the people, who suffer for all the 
faults of their chief, must have a much better right to 
renounce their dependence. But the terrible and innumer 
able quarrels and disorders that would necessarily arise 
from so dangerous a privilege, show, more than anything 
else, how much human governments stood in need of a * 
more solid basis than mere reason, and how expedient it 
was for the public tranquillity that the divine will should 
interpose to invest the sovereign authority with a sacred 
and inviolable character, which might deprive subjects of P 
the fatal right of disposing of it. If the world had received 
no other advantages from religion, this would be enough 
to impose on men the duty of adopting and cultivating it, 
abuses and all, since it has been the means of saving 
more blood than fanaticism has ever spilt. But let us 
follow the thread of our hypothesis. 

230 A Discourse on 

The different forms of government owe their origin to 
the differing degrees of inequality which existed between 
individuals at the time of their institution. If there 
happened to be any one man among them pre-eminent in 
power, virtue, riches or personal influence, he became sole 
magistrate, and the State assumed the form of monarchy. 
If several, nearly equal in point of eminence, stood above 
the rest, they were elected jointly, and formed an aris 
tocracy. Again, among a people who had deviated less 
from a state of nature, and between whose fortune or 
talents there was less disproportion, the supreme adminis 
tration was retained in common, and a democracy was 
formed. It was discovered in process of time which of 
these forms suited men the best. Some peoples remained 
altogether subject to the laws ; others soon came to 
obey their magistrates. The citizens laboured to pre 
serve their liberty; the subjects, irritated at seeing others 
enjoying a blessing they had lost, thought only of making 
slaves of their neighbours. In a word, on the one side 
arose riches and conquests, and on the other happiness and 

In these different governments, all the offices were at 
first elective ; and when the influence of wealth was out of 
the question, the preference was given to merit, which 
gives a natural ascendancy, and to age, which is experi 
enced in business and deliberate in council. The Elders of 
the Hebrews, the Gerontes at Sparta, the Senate at Rome, 
and the very etymology of our word Seigneur, show how 
old age was once held in veneration. But the more often 
the choice fell upon old men, the more often elections had 
to be repeated, and the more they became a nuisance ; 
intrigues set in, factions were formed, party feeling grew 
bitter, civil wars broke out; the lives of individuals were 
sacrificed to the pretended happiness of the State ; and 
at length men were on the point of relapsing into their 
primitive anarchy. Ambitious chiefs profited by these 
circumstances to perpetuate their offices in their own 
families : at the same time the people, already used to 
dependence, ease, and the conveniences of life, and already 
incapable of breaking its fetters, agreed to an increase 
of its slaver) , in order to secure its tranquillity. Thus 
magistrates, having become hereditary, contracted the 

The Origin of Inequality 231 

habit of considering their offices as a family estate, and 
themselves as proprietors of the communities of which 
they were at first only the officers, of regarding their 
fellow-citizens as their slaves, and numbering them, like 
cattle, among their belongings, and of calling themselves 
the equals of the gods and kings of kings. ^ 

If we follow the progress of inequality in these various 
revolutions, we shall find that the establishment of laws 
and of the right of property was its first term, the institu 
tion of magistracy the second, and the conversion of 
legitimate into arbitrary power the third and last; so 
that the condition of rich and poor was authorised by the 
first period ; that of powerful and weak by the second ; 
and only by the third that of master and slave, which is 
the last degree of inequality, and the term at which all 
the rest remain, when they have got so far, till the govern 
ment is either entirely dissolved by new revolutions, 
brought back again to legitimacy. 

To understand this progress as necessary we must con 
sider not so much the motives for the establishment of 
the body politic, as the forms it assumes in actuality, and 
the faults that necessarily attend it : for the flaws which 
make social institutions necessary are" the same as make 
the abuse of them unavoidable; If we except Sparta, 
where the laws were mainly concerned with the education 
of children, and where Lycurgus established such morality 
as practically made laws needless for laws as a rule, 
being weaker than the passions, restrain men without 
altering them it would not be difficult to prove that every 
government, which scrupulously complied with the ends 
for which it was instituted, and guarded carefully against 
change and corruption, was set up unnecessarily. For 
a country, in which no one either evaded the laws or made 
a bad use of magisterial power, could require neither laws 
nor magistrates. 

Political distinctions necessarily produce civil distinc 
tions. The growing equality between the chiefs and the 
people is sqpn felt by individuals, and modified in a 
thousand ways according to passions, talents and cir 
cumstances. The magistrate could not usurp any illegiti 
mate power, without giving distinction to the creatures 
with whom he must share it. Besides, individuals only 

232 A Discourse on 

allow themselves to be oppressed so far as they are 
hurried on by blind ambition, and, looking rather below 
than above them, come to love authority more than in 
dependence, and submit to slavery, that they may in turn 
enslave others. It is no easy matter to reduce to obedience 
a man who has no ambition to command ; nor would the 
most adroit politician find it possible to enslave a people 
whose only desire was to be independent. But inequality 
easily makes its way among cowardly and ambitious 
minds, which are ever ready to run the risks of fortune, 
and almost indifferent whether they command or obey, as 
it is favourable or adverse. Thus, there must have been 
a time, when the eyes of the people were so fascinated, 
that their rulers had only to say to the least of men, " Be 
great, you and all your posterity," to make him imme 
diately appear great in the eyes of every one as well as in 
his own. His descendants took still more upon them, in 
proportion to their distance from him ; the more obscure 
and uncertain the cause, the greater the effect : the greater 
the number of idlers one could count in a family, the more 
illustrious it was held to be. 

If this were the place to go into details, I could readily 
explain how, even without the intervention of government, 
inequality of credit and authority became unavoidable 
among private persons, as soon as their union in a single 
society made them compare themselves one with another, 
and take into account the differences which they found out 
from the continual intercourse every man had to have with 
his neighbours. 1 These differences are of several kinds ; but 

1 Distributive justice would oppose this rigorous equality of the state 
of nature, even were it practicable in civil society ; as all the members 
of the State owe it their services in proportion to their talents and abilities, 
they ought, on their side, to be distinguished and favoured in proportion to 
the services they have actually rendered. It is in this sense we must 
understand that passage of Isocrates, in which he extols the primitive 
Athenians, for having determined which of the two kinds of equality was 
the most useful, viz. that which consists in dividing the same advantages 
indiscriminately among all the citizens, or that which consists in distribut 
ing them to each according to his deserts. These able politicians, adds the 
orator, banishing that unjust inequality which makes no distinction be 
tween good and bad men, adhered inviolably to that which rewards and 
punishes every man according to his deserts. 

But in the first place, there never existed a society, however corrupt 
some may have become, where no difference was made between the good 

The Origin of Inequality 233 

riches, nobility or rank, power and personal merit being 
the principal distinctions by which men form an estimate 
of each other in society, I could prove that the harmony 
or conflict of these different forces is the surest indication 
of the good or bad constitution of a State. I could show 
that among these four kinds of inequality, personal quali 
ties being the origin of all the others, wealth is the one 
to which they are all reduced in the end ; for, as riches tend 
most immediately to the prosperity of individuals, and 
are easiest to commuoicate, they are used to purchase 
every other distinction. /By this observation we are enabled 
to judge pretty exactly" how far a people has departed 
from its primitive constitution, and of its progress 
towards the extreme term of corruption. I could explain 
how much this universal desire for reputation, honours 
and advancement, which inflames us all, exercises and 
holds up to comparison our faculties and powers ; how it 
excites and multiplies our passions, and, by creating 
universal competition and rivalry, or rather enmity, among 
men, occasions numberless failures, successes and dis 
turbances of all kinds by making so many aspirants run 
the same course^] I could show that it is to this desire 
of being talked about, and this unremitting rage of dis 
tinguishing ourselves, that we owe the best and the worst 
things we possess, both our virtues and our vices, our 
science and our errors, our conquerors and our philoso 
phers ; that is to say, a great many bad things, and a 
very few good ones. In a word, I could prove that, if 
we have a few rich and powerful men on the pinnacle of 

and the bad ; and with regard to morality, where no measures can be 
prescribed by law exact enough to serve as a practical rule for a magistrate, 
it is with great prudence that, in order not to leave the fortune or quality 
of the citizens to his discretion, it prohibits him from passing judgment on 
persons and confines his judgment to actions. Only morals such as those of 
the ancient Romans can bear censors, and such a tribunal among us would 
throw everything into confusion. The difference between good and bad 
men is determined by public esteem ; the magistrate being strictly a judge 
of right alone ; whereas the public is the truest judge of morals, and is of 
such integrity and penetration on this head, that although it may be some 
times deceived, it can never be corrupted. The rank of citizens ought, 
therefore, to be regulated, not according to their personal merit for this 
would put it in the power of the magistrate to apply the law almost arbi- 
rarily but according to the actual services done to the State ; which are 
capable of being more exactly estimated. 

234 A Discourse on 

fortune and grandeur, while the crowd grovels in want 
and obscurity, it is because the former prize what they 
enjoy only in so far as others are destitute of it ; and 
because, without changing their condition, they would 
cease to be happy the moment the people ceased to be 

These details alone, however, would furnish matter 
for a considerable work, in which the advantages 
and disadvantages of every kind of government might 
be weighed, as they are related to man in the state of 
nature, and at the same time all the different aspects, under 
which inequality has up to the present appeared, or 
may appear in ages yet to come, according to the nature 
of the several governments, and the alterations which 
time must unavoidably occasion in them, might be demon 
strated. We should then see the multitude oppressed from 
within, in consequence of the very precautions it had taken 
to guard against foreign tyranny. We should see oppres 
sion continually gain ground without it being possible 
for the oppressed to know where it would stop, or what 
legitimate means was left them of checking its progress. 
We should see the rights of citizens, and the freedom of 
nations slowly extinguished, and the complaints, protests 
and appeals of the weak treated as seditious murmurings. 
We should see the honour of defending the common cause 
confined by statecraft to a mercenary part of the people. 
We should see taxes made necessary by such means, and 
the disheartened husbandman deserting his fields even in 
the midst of peace, and leaving the plough to gird on the 
sword. We should see fatal and capricious codes oi 
honour established; and the champions of their country 
sooner or later becoming its enemies, and for ever holding 
their daggers to the breasts of their fellow-citizens. The 
time would come when they would be heard saying to the 
oppressor of their country 

Pectore si fratris gladium juguloque parentis 
Condere me jubeas, gravidceque in viscera partu 
Conjtigis, invitd peragam tamen omnia dextrd. 

Lucan. i, 376. 

From great inequality of fortunes and conditions, from 
the vast variety of passions and of talents, of useless and 

The Origin of Inequality 235 

pernicious arts, of vain sciences, would arise a multitude 
of prejudices equally contrary to reason, happiness and 
virtue. We should see the magistrates fomenting every 
thing that might weaken men united in society, by pro 
moting dissension among them ; everything that might 
sow in it the seeds of actual division, while it gave society 
the air of harmony ; everything that might inspire the 
different ranks of people with mutual hatred and distrust, 
>y setting the rights and interests of one against those of 
another, and so strengthen the power which comprehended 
them all. 

It is from the ipidst of this disorder and these revolu 
tions, that despotism, gradually raising up its hideous 
lead and devouring everything that remained so und and 
untainted in any part of the State, would at length trample 
:>n both the laws and the people, and establish itself on 
he ruins of the republic. The times which immediately 
^receded this last change would be times of trouble and 
calamity ; but at length the monster would swallow up 
tvery thing, and the people would no longer have either 
:hiefs or laws, but only tyrants. From this moment 
here would be no question of virtue or morality; for 
despotism cui ex honesto nulla est spes, wherever it pre 
vails, admits no other master; it no sooner speaks than 
jrobity and duty lose their weight and blind obedience 
s the only virtue which slaves can still practise. 

This is the last term of inequality, the extreme point 
that closes the circle, and meets that from which we set 
out. Here all private persons return to their first 
quality, because they are nothing; and, subjects having 
no law but the will of their master, and their master 
no restraint but his passions, all notions of good and 
all principles of equity again vanish. There is here a 
complete return to the law of the strongest, and so 
to a new state of nature, differing from that we set out: 
from; for the one was a state of nature in its first; 
purity, while this is the consequence of excessive corrup 
tion. There is so little difference between the two states 
in other respects, and the contract of government is so 
completely dissolved by despotism, that the despot is 
master only so long as he remains the strongest; as soon 
as he can be expelled, he has no right to complain of 


A Discourse on 

violence. The popular insurrection that ends in the death 
or deposition of a Sultan is as lawful an act as those by 
which he disposed, the day before, of the lives and fortunes 
of his subjects. As he was maintained by force alone, 
it is force alone that overthrows him. Thus everything 
takes place according to the natural order; and, whatever 
may be the result of such frequent and precipitate revolu 
tions, no one man has reason to complain of the injustice 
of another, but only of his own ill-fortune or indiscretion. 

If the reader thus discovers and retraces the lost and 
forgotten road, by which man must have passed from the 
state of nature to the state of society; if he carefully 
restores, along with the intermediate situations which I 
have just described, those which want of time has com 
pelled me to suppress, or my imagination has failed to 
suggest, he cannot fail to be struck by the vast distance 
which separates the two states. It is in tracing this slow 
succession that he will find the solution of a number of 
problems of politics and morals, which philosophers cannot 
settle. He will feel that, men being different in different 
ages, the reason why Diogenes could not find a man was 
that he sought among his contemporaries a man of an 
earlier period. He will see that Cato died with Rome and 
liberty, because he did not fit the age in which he lived ; 
the greatest of men served only to astonish a world which 
he would certainly have ruled, had he lived five hundred 
years sooner. In a word, he will explain how the soul 
and the passions of men insensibly change their very 
nature ; why our wants and pleasures in the end seek 
new objects ; and why, the original man having vanished 
by degrees, society offers to us only an assembly of 
artificial men and factitious passions, which are the work 
of all these new relations, and without any real foundation 
in nature. We are taught nothing on this subject, by 
reflection, that is not entirely confirmed by observation. 
The savage and the civilised man differ so much in the 
bottom of their hearts and in their inclinations, that what 
constitutes the supreme happiness of one would reduce the 
other to despair. The former breathes only peace and 
liberty ; he desires only to live and be free from labour ; 
even the ataraxia of the Stoic falls far short of his profound 
indifference to every other object. Civilised man, on the 

The Origin of Inequality 237 

other hand, is always moving-, sweating-, toiling- and rack* 
ing his brains to find still more laborious occupations : 
he goes on in drudgery to his last moment, and even seeks 
death to put himself in a position to live, or renounces 
life to acquire immortality. He pays his court to men in 
power, whom he hates, and to the wealthy, whom he 
despises; he stops at nothing /o have the honour of serv 
ing- them ; he is not ashamed to value himself on his own 
meanness and their protection ; and, proud of his slavery, 
he speaks with disdain of those, who have not the honour 
of sharing- it. What a sight would the perplexing and 
envied labours of a European minister of State present to 
the eyes of a Caribean ! How many cruel deaths would 
not this indolent savage prefer to the horrors of such a life, 
which is seldom even sweetened by the pleasure of doing 
g-ood ! But, for him to see into the motives of all this 
solicitude, the words power and reputation, would have 
to bear some meaning in his mind ; he would have to know 
that there are men who set a value on the opinion of the 
rest of the world ; who can be made happy and satisfied 
with themselves rather on the testimony of other people 
than on their own. In reality, the source of all these 
differences is, that the savage lives within himself, while 
social man lives constantly outside himself, and only 
knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he 
seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence 
merely from the judgment of others concerning him. It 
is not to my present purpose to insist on the indifference 
to good and evil which arises from this disposition, in 
spjte of our many fine works on morality, or to show how, 
everything being- reduced to appearances, there is but art 
and mummery in even honour, friendship, virtue, and often 
vice itself, of which we at length learn the secret of boast 
ing ; to show, in short, how, always asking others what 
we are, and never daring to ask ourselves, in the midst of 
so much philosophy, humanity and civilisation, and of such 
sublime codes of morality, we have nothing to show for 
ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honour 
without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure with 
out happiness. It is sufficient that I have proved that this 
is not by any means the original state of man, but that it 
is merely the spirit of society, and the inequality which 

238 The Origin of Inequality 

society produces, that thus transform and alter all our 
natural inclinations. 

I have endeavoured to trace the origin and progress of 
inequality, and the institution and abuse of political 
societies, as far as these are capable of being deduced 
from the nature of man merely by the light of reason, and 
independently of those sacred dogmas which give the 
sanction of divine right to sovereign authority. It follows 
from this survey that, as there is hardly any inequality in 
the state of nature, all the inequality which now prevails 
owes its strength and growth to the development of our 
faculties and the advance of the human mind, and becomes 
at last permanent and legitimate by the establishment of 
property and laws. Secondly, it follows that moral in 
equality, authorised by positive right alone, clashes with 
natural right, whenever it is not proportionate to physical 
inequality ; a distinction wHich sufficiently determines what 
we ought to think of that species of inequality which 
prevails in all civilised countries ; since it is plainly con 
trary to the law of nature, however defined, that children 
should command old men, fools wise men, and that the 
privileged few should gorge themselves with superfluities, 
while the starving multitude are in want of the bare 
necessities of life. 


A FAMOUS author, reckoning up the good and evil of 
human life, and comparing the aggregates, finds that our 
pains greatly exceed our pleasures : so that, all things 
considered, human life is not at all a valuable gift. This 
conclusion does not surprise me ; for the writer drew all 
his arguments from man in civilisation. Had he gone 
back to the state of nature, his inquiries would clearly 
have had a different result, and man would have been seen 
to be subject to very few evils not of his own creation. 
It has indeed cost us not a little trouble to make ourselves 
as wretched as we are. When we consider, on the one 
hand, the immense labours of mankind, the many sciences 
brought to perfection, the arts invented, the powers em 
ployed, the deeps filled up, the mountains levelled, the 
rocks shattered, the rivers made navigable, the tracts of 
land cleared, the lakes emptied, the marshes drained, the 
enormous structures erected on land, and the teeming 
vessels that cover the sea ; and, on the other hand, estimate 
with ever so little thought, the real advantages that have 
accrued from all these works to mankind, we cannot help 
being amazed at the vast disproportion there is between 
these things, and deploring the infatuation of man, which, 
to gratify his silly pride and vain self-admiration, induces 
him eagerly to pursue all the miseries he is capable of 
feeling, though beneficent nature had kindly placed them 
out of his way. 

That men are actually wicked, a sad and continual 
experience of them proves beyond doubt : but, all the 
same, I think I have shown that man is naturally good. 
What then can have depraved him to such an extent, 
except the changes that have happened in his constitution, 
the advances he has made, and the knowledge he has 
acquired? We may admire human society as much as we 
please ; it- will be none the less true that it necessarily 
1 See p. 185. 


240 The Origin of Inequality 

leads men to hate each other in proportion as their interests 
clash, and to do one another apparent services, while they 
are really doing every imaginable mischief. What can be 
thought of a relation, in which the interest of every 
individual dictates rules directly opposite to those the 
public reason dictates to the community in general in 
which every man finds his profit in the misfortunes of his 
neighbour? There is not perhaps any man in a comfort 
able position who has not greedy heirs, and perhaps even 
children, secretly wishing for his death ; not a ship at 
sea, of which the loss would not be good news to some 
merchant or other ; not a house, which some debtor of bad 
faith would not be glad to see reduced to ashes with all 
the papers it contains ; not a nation which does not rejoice 
at the disasters that befall its neighbours. Thus it is thai 
we find our advantage in the misfortunes of our fellow- 
creatures, and that the loss of one man almost always 
constitutes the prosperity of another. But it is still more 
pernicious that public calamities are the objects of the 
hopes and expectations of innumerable individuals. Sorm 
desire sickness, some mortality, some war, and some 
famine. I have seen men wicked enough to weep foi 
sorrow at the prospect of a plentiful season ; and the grea 
and fatal fire of London, which cost so many unhapp) 
persons their lives or their fortunes, made the fortunej 
of perhaps ten thousand others. I know that Montaign< 
censures Demades the Athenian for having caused to b< 
punished a workman who, by selling his coffins very dear 
was a great gainer by the deaths of his fellow-citizens 
but, the reason alleged by Montaigne being that everybod; 
ought to be punished, my point is clearly confirmed by it 
Let us penetrate, therefore, the superficial appearances o 
benevolence, and survey what passes in the inmost recesse: 
of the heart. Let us reflect what must be the state o 
things, when men are forced to caress and destroy on< 
another at the same time; when they are born enemie 
by duty, and knaves by interest. It will perhaps be sai< 
that society is so formed that every man gains by serving 
the rest. That would be all very well, if he did not gait 
still more by injuring them. There is no legitimate profi 
so great, that it cannot be greatly exceeded by what ma} 
be made illegitimately ; we always gain more by hurting 

Appendix 241 

242 The Origin of Inequality 

delicate way of living, by our passing- from our houses into 
the open air and back again, by the putting on or throwing- 
off our clothes with too little care, and by all the precau 
tions which sensuality has converted into necessary habits, 
and the neglect of which sometimes costs us our life or 
health ; if you take into account the conflagrations and 
earthquakes, which, devouring or overwhelming whole 
cities, destroy the inhabitants by thousands ; in a word, if 
you add together all the dangers with which these causes 
are always threatening us, you will see how dearly nature 
makes us pay for the contempt with which we have treatec 
her lessons. 

I shall not here repeat, what I have elsewhere said o: 
the calamities of war ; but wish that those, who hav< 
sufficient knowledge, were willing or bold enough to mak< 
public the details of the villainies committed in armies b} 
the contractors for commissariat and hospitals : we shouk 
see plainly that their monstrous frauds, already none toe 
well concealed, which cripple the finest armies in less thai 
no time, occasion greater destruction among the soldier: 
than the swords of the enemy. 

The number of people who perish annually at sea, bj 
famine, the scurvy, pirates, fire and shipwrecks, afford. 1 
matter for another shocking calculation. We must alsc 
place to the credit of the establishment of property, anc 
consequently to the institution of society, assassinations 
poisonings, highway robberies, and even the punishment: 
inflicted on the wretches guilty of these crimes; which, 
though expedient to prevent greater evils, yet by making 
the murder of one man cost the lives of two or more 
double the loss to the human race. 

What shameful methods are sometimes practised t< 
prevent the birth of men, and cheat nature; either b} 
brutal and depraved appetites which insult her mos 
beautiful work appetites unknown to savages or men 
animals, which can spring only from the corrupt imagina 
tion of mankind in civilised countries ; or by secret abor 
tions, the fitting effects of debauchery and vitiated notion: 
of honour ; or by the exposure or murder of multitudes o 
infants, who fall victims to the poverty of their parents, o 
the cruel shame of their mothers ; or, finally, by the mutila 
tion of unhappy wretches, part of whose life, with thei 

Appendix 243 

iope of posterity, is given up to vain singing, or, still 
worse, the brutal jealousy of other men : a mutilation 
which, in the last case, becomes a double outrage against 
lature from the treatment of those who suffer it, and 
rom the use to which they are destined. But is it not a 
housand times more common and more dangerous for 
Daternal rights openly to offend against humanity ? How 
nany talents have not been thrown away, and inclinations 
orced, by the unwise constraint of fathers? How many 
nen, who would have distinguished themselves in a fitting 
estate, have died dishonoured and wretched in another for 
which they had no taste ! How many happy, but unequal, 
carriages have been broken or disturbed, and how many 
:haste wives have been dishonoured, by an order of things 
:ontinually in contradiction with that of nature ! How 
nany good and virtuous husbands and wives are recipro 
cally punished for having been ill-assorted ! How many 
, oung and unhappy victims of their parents avarice 
Dlunge into vice, or pass their melancholy days in tears, 
groaning in the indissoluble bonds which their hearts 
epudiate and gold alone has formed ! Fortunate some- 
imes are those whose courage and virtue remove them 
rom life before inhuman violence makes them spend it in 
:rime or in despair. Forgive me, father and mother, 
whom I shall ever regret : my complaint embitters your 
griefs ; but would they might be an eternal and terrible 
example to every one who dares, in the name of nature, 
o violate her most sacred right. 

If I have spoken only of those ill-starred unions which 
are the result of our system, is it to be thought that those 
aver which love and sympathy preside are free from 
disadvantages? What if I should undertake to show 
.lumanity attacked in its very source, and even in the most 
sacred of all ties, in which fortune is consulted before 
nature, and, the disorders of society confounding all 
virtue and vice, continence becomes a criminal precaution, 
and a refusal to give life to a fellow-creature, an act of 
rmmanity? But, without drawing aside the veil which 
lides all these horrors, let us content ourselves with 
Dointing out the evil which others will have to remedy. 

To all this add the multiplicity of unhealthy trades, 
ivhich shorten men s lives or destroy their bodies, such 

244 The Origin of Inequality 

as working in the mines, and the preparing" of metals and 
minerals, particularly lead, copper, mercury, cobalt, and 
arsenic : add those other dangerous trades which are dail) 
fatal to many tilers, carpenters, masons and miners : put 
all these together and we can see, in the establishment 
and perfection of societies, the reasons for that diminu 
tion of our species, which has been noticed by many 

Luxury, which cannot be prevented among men who are 
tenacious of their own convenience and of the respect 
paid them by others, soon completes the evil society had 
begun, and, under the pretence of giving bread to the 
poor, whom it should never have made such, impoverishes 
all the rest, and sooner or later depopulates the State. 
Luxury is a remedy much worse than the disease it sets 
up to cure ; or rather it is in itself the greatest of all evils, 
for every State, great or small : for, in order to maintain 
all the servants and vagabonds it creates, it brings oppres 
sion and ruin on the citizen and the labourer ; it is like 
those scorching winds, which, covering the trees and plants 
with devouring insects, deprive useful animals of their 
subsistence and spread famine and death wherever they 

From society and the luxury to which it gives birth 
arise the liberal and mechanical arts, commerce, letters, 
and all those superfluities which make industry flourish, 
and enrich and ruin nations. The reason for such destruc 
tion is plain. It is easy to see, from the very nature oi 
agriculture, that it must be the least lucrative of all the 
arts ; for, its produce being the most universally necessary, 
the price must be proportionate to the abilities of the very 
poorest of mankind. 

From the same principle may be deduced this rule, thai 
the arts in general are more lucrative in proportion a: 
they are less useful; and that, in the end, the most usefu 
becomes the most neglected. From this we may lean 
what to think of the real advantages of industry and th 
actual effects of its progress. 

Such are the sensible causes of all the miseries, intc 
which opulence at length plunges the most celebratec 
nations. In proportion as arts and industry flourish, th( 
despised husbandman, burdened with the taxes necessan 
for the support of luxury, and condemned to pass his day; 

Appendix 245 

246 The Origin of Inequality 

This is a deduction in the manner of my adversaries, 
which I would as soon anticipate as let them have the shame 
of drawing. O you, who have never heard the voice of 
heaven, who think man destined only to live this little life 
and die in peace; you, who can resign in the midst of 
populous cities your fatal acquisitions, your restless spirits, 
your corrupt hearts and endless desires ; resume, since it 
depends entirely on yourselves, your ancient and primitive 
innocence: retire to the__w.oods, there to lose the sight 
and remembrancer of tfie crimes of your contemporaries ; 
and be not apprehensive of degrading your species, by 
renouncing its advances in order to renounce its vices. 
A^_Jflj^mea-Jik.e.-me, whose passions have destroyed their 
original simplicity, who can no longer subsist on plants 
or acorns, or live withqut_Jaw;s and magistrates; those 
who were honouTed*Tn theif first fatHer with supernatural 
instructions ; those who discover, in the design of giving 
human actions at the start a"^ morality which they must 
otherwiseHfrave been so torrg~7n acquiKng~,~the reason for a 
precept in itself indifferent and inexplicable on every other 
system ; those, in short, who are persuaded that the Divine 
Being has called all mankind to be partakers in the happi 
ness and perfection of celestial intelligences, all these will 
endeavour to merit the eternal prize they are to expect 
from the practice of those virtues, which they make them 
selves fo llow in learning to know them. They will respect 
the sacred bonds of their respective communities ; they 
will love their fellow-citizens, and serve them with all their 
might : they will scrupulously obey the laws, and all those 
who make or administer them ; they will particularly 
honour those wise and good princes, who find means of 
preventing, curing or even palliating all these evils and 
abuses, by which we are constantly threatened ; they will 
animate the zeal of their deserving rulers, by showing 
them, without flattery or fear, the importance of their 
office and the severity of their duty. But they will not- 
therefore have less contempt for a constitution that cannot 
support itself without the aid of so many splendid char 
acters, much oftener wished for than found ; and from 
which, notwithstanding all their pains and solicitude, there 
always arise more real calamities than even apparent 


THE word Economy, or CEconomy, is derived from 
a house, and vo/u.os, Ia-u>, and meant originally only the 
wise and legitimate government of the house for the 
common good of the whole family. The meaning of the 
term was then extended to the government of that great 
family, the State. To distinguish these two senses of the 
word, the latter is called general or political economy, and 
the former domestic or particular economy. The first only 
is discussed in the present discourse. 

Even if there were as close an analogy as many authors 
maintain between the State and the family, it would not 
follow that the rules of conduct proper for one of these 
societies would be also proper for the other. They differ 
too much in extent to be regulated in the same manner ; 
and there will always be a great difference between 
domestic government, in which a father can see everything 
for himself, and civil government, where the chief sees 
hardly anything save through the eyes of others. To put 
both on an equality in this respect, the talents, strength, 
and all the faculties of the father would have to increase 
in proportion to the size of his family, and the soul of a 
powerful monarch would have to be, to that of an ordinary 
man, as the extent of his empire is to that of a private 
person s estate. 

But how could the government of the State be like that 
of the family, when the basis on which they rest is so 
different? The father being physically stronger than his 
children, his paternal authority, as long as they need his 
protection, may be reasonably said to be established by 
nature. But in the great family, all the members of which 
are naturally equal, the political authority, being purely 
arbitrary as far as its institution is concerned, can be 
founded only on conventions, and the Magistrate can have 
no authority over the rest, except by virtue of the laws. 


250 A Discourse on Political Economy 

The duties of a father are dictated to him by natural feel 
ings, and in a manner that seldom allows him to neglect 
them. For rulers there is no such principle, and they are 
really obliged to the people only by what they themselves 
have promised to do, and the people have therefore a right 
to require of them. Another more important difference is 
that since the children have nothing but what they receive 
from their father, it is plain that all the rights of property 
belong to him, or emanate from him ; but quite the opposite 
is the case in the great family, where the general adminis 
tration is established only to secure individual property, 
which is antecedent to it. The principal object of the work 
of the whole house is to preserve and increase the patri 
mony of the father, in order that he may be able some day 
to distribute it among his children without impoverishing 
them ; whereas the wealth of the exchequer is only a means, 
often ill understood, of keeping the individuals in peace 
and plenty. In a word, the little family is destined to be 
extinguished, and to resolve itself some day into several 
families of a similar nature ; but the great family, being 
constituted to endure for ever in the same condition, need 
not, like the small one, increase for the purpose of multi 
plying, but need only maintain itself ; and it can easily be 
proved that any increase does it more harm than good. 

In the family, it is clear, for several reasons which lie 
in its very nature, that the father ought to command. In 
the first place, the authority ought not to be equally 
divided between father and mother ; the government must 
be single, and in every division of opinion there must be 
one preponderant voice to decide. Secondly, however 
lightly we may regard the disadvantages peculiar to 
women, yet, as they necessarily occasion intervals of 
inaction, this is a sufficient reason for excluding them from 
this supreme authority : for when the balance is perfectly 
even, a straw is enough to turn the scale. Besides, the 
husband ought to be able to superintend his wife s con 
duct, because it is of importance for him to be assured that 
the children, whom he is obliged to acknowledge and main 
tain, belong to no-one but himself. Thirdly, children 
should be obedient to their father, at first of necessity, and 
afterwards from gratitude : after having had their wants 
satisfied by him during one half of their lives, they ought 

A Discourse on Political Economy 251 

to consecrate the other half to providing for his. Fourthly, 
servants owe him their services in exchange for the pro 
vision he makes for them, though they may break off the 
bargain as soon as it ceases to suit them. I say nothing 
here of slavery, because it is contrary to nature, and cannot 
be authorised by any right or law. 

There is nothing of all this in political society, in which 
the chief is so far from having any natural interest in the 
happiness of the individuals, that it is not uncommon for 
him to seek his own in their misery. If the magistracy is 
hereditary, a community of men is often governed by a 
child. If it be elective, innumerable inconveniences arise 
from such election ; while in both cases all the advantages 
of paternity are lost. If you have but a single ruler, you 
lie at the discretion of a master who has no reason to love 
you : and if you have several, you must bear at once their 
tyranny and their divisions. In a word, abuses are inevit 
able and their consequences fatal in every society where 
the public interest and the laws have no natural force, and 
are perpetually attacked by personal interest and the pas 
sions of the ruler and the members. 

Although the functions of the father of a family and 
those of the chief magistrate ought to make for the same 
object, they must do so in such different ways, and their 
duty and rights are so essentially distinct, that we cannot 
confound them without forming very false ideas about the 
fundamental laws of society, and falling into errors which 
are fatal to mankind. In fact, if the voice of nature is the 
best counsellor to which a father can listen in the discharge 
of his duty, for the Magistrate it is a false guide, which 
continually prevents him from performing his, and leads 
him on sooner or later to the ruin of himself and of the 
State, if he is not restrained by the most sublime virtue. 
The only precaution necessary for the father of a family is 
to guard himself against depravity, and prevent his natural 
inclinations from being corrupted ; whereas it is these 
themselves which corrupt the Magistrate. In order to act 
aright, the first has only to consult his heart; the other 
becomes a traitor the moment he listens to his. Even his 
own reason should be suspect to him, nor should he follow 
any rule other than the public reason, which is the law. 
Thus nature has made a multitude of good fathers of 

252 A Discourse on Political Economy 

families ; but it is doubtful whether, from the very begin 
ning of the world, human wisdom has made ten men 
capable of governing their peers. 

From all that has just been said, it follows that public 
economy, which is my subject, has been rightly distin 
guished from private economy, and that, the State 
having nothing in common with the family except the 
obligations which their heads lie under of making both 
of them happy, the same rules of conduct cannot apply 
to both. I have considered these few lines enough to 
overthrow the detestable system which Sir Robert Filmer 
has endeavoured to establish in his Patriarcha ; a work to 
which two celebrated writers have done too much honour 
in writing books to refute it. Moreover, this error is of 
very long standing; for Aristotle himself thought proper 
to combat it with arguments which may be found in the 
first book of his Politics. 

I must here ask my readers to distinguish also between 
public economy, which is my subject and which I call 
government, and the supreme authority, which I call 
Sovereignty ; a distinction which consists in the fact that 
the latter has the right of legislation, and in certain cases 
binds the body of the nation itself, while the former has only 
the right of execution, and is binding only on individuals. 

I shall take the liberty of making use of a very common, 
and in some respects inaccurate, comparison, which will 
sery^^o illustrate my meaning. 

""TftieDody politic, taken individually, may be considered 
as an organised, living body, resembling that of man. 
The sovereign power represents the head ; the laws and 
customs are the brain, the source of the nerves and seat 
of the understanding, will and senses, of which the Judges 
and Magistrates are the organs : commerce, industry, and 
agriculture are the mouth and stomach which prepare the 
common subsistence ; the public income is the blood, which 
a prudent economy, in performing the functions of the 
heart, causes to distribute through the whole body nutri 
ment and life : the citizens are the body and the members, 
which make the machine live, move and work ; and no 
part of this machine can be damaged without the painful 
impression being at once conveyed to the brain, if the 
animal is in a state of health. 

A Discourse on Political Economy 253 

The life of both bodies is the self common to the whole, 
the reciprocal sensibility and internal correspondence of 
all the parts. Where this communication ceases, where 
the formal unity disappears, and the contiguous parts 
belong to one another only by juxtaposition, the man is 
dead, or the State is dissolved. 

The body politic, therefore, is also a moral being pos 
sessed of a will ; and this general will, which tends always 
to the preservation and welfare of the whole and of every 
part, and is the source of the laws, constitutes for all the 
members of the State, in their relations to one another 
and to it, the rule of what is just or unjust : a truth which 
shows, by the way, how idly some writers have treated 
as theft the subtlety prescribed to children at Sparta for 
obtaining their frugal repasts, as if everything ordained 
by the law were not lawful. 

It is important to observe that this rule of justice, though 
certain with regard to all citizens, may be defective with 
regard to foreigners. The reason is clear. The will of 
the State, though general in relation to its own members, 
is no longer so in relation to other States and their 
members, but becomes, for them, a particular and indi 
vidual will, which has its rule of justice in the law of 
nature. This, however, enters equally into the principle 
here laid down ; for in such a case, the great city of the 
world becomes the body politic, whose general will is 
always the law of nature, and of which the different States 
and peoples are individual members. From these distinc 
tions, applied to each political society and its members, are 
derived the most certain and universal rules, by which we 
can judge whether a government is good or bad, and in 
general of the morality of all human actions. 

Every political society is composed of other smaller 
societies of different kinds, each of which has its interests 
and its rules of conduct : but those societies which every 
body perceives, because they have an external and author 
ised form, are not the only ones that actually exist in the 
State : all individuals who are united by a common interest 
compose as many others, either transitory or permanent, 
whose influence is none the less real because it is less 
apparent, and the proper observation of whose various 
relations is the true knowledge of public morals and 

254 A Discourse on Political Economy 

manners. The influence of all these tacit or formal 
associations causes, by the influence of their will, as many 
different modifications of the public will. The will of 
these particular societies has always two relations ; for the 
members of the association, it is a general will ; for the 
great society, it is a particular will ; and it is often right 
with regard to the first object, and wrong as to the second. 
An individual may be a devout priest, a brave soldier, or 
a zealous senator, and yet a bad citizen. A particular 
resolution may be advantageous to the smaller community, 
but pernicious to the greater. It is true that particular 
societies being always subordinate to the general society 
in preference to others, the duty of a citizen takes prece 
dence of that of a senator, and a man s duty of that of a 
citizen : but unhappily personal interest is always found 
in inverse ratio to duty, and increases in proportion as the 
association grows narrower, and the engagement less 
sacred ; which irref ragably proves that the most general 
will is always the most just also, and that the voice of 
the people is in fact the voice of God. rOLC ^f - 

It does not follow that the public decisions are always 
equitable ; they may possibly, for reasons which I have 
given, not be so when they have to do with foreigners. 
Thus it is not impossible that a Republic, though in itself 
well governed, should enter upon an unjust war. Nor is 
it less possible for the Council of a Democracy to pass 
unjust decrees, and condemn the innocent; but this never 
happens unless the people is seduced by private interests, 
which the credit or eloquence of some clever persons 
substitutes for those of the State : in which case the 
general will will be one thing, and the result of the public 
deliberation another. This is not contradicted by the case 
of the Athenian Democracy ; for Athens was in fact not a 
Democracy, but a very tyrannical Aristocracy, governed 
by philosophers and orators. Carefully determine what 
happens in every public deliberation, and it will be seen 
that the general will is always for the common good ; but 
very often there is a secret division, a tacit confederacy, 
\fhich, for particular ends, causes the natural disposition 
of the assembly to be set at nought. In such a case the 
body of society is really divided into other bodies, the 
members of which acquire a general will, which is good 

A Discourse on Political Economy 255 

and just with respect to these new bodies, but unjust and 
bad with regard to the whole, from which each is thus 

We see then how easy it is, by the help of these prin 
ciples, to explain those apparent contradictions, which are 
noticed in the conduct of many persons who are scrupu 
lously honest in some respects, and cheats and scoundrels 
in others, who trample under foot the most sacred duties, 
and yet are faithful to the death to engagements that are 
often illegitimate. Thus the most depraved of men always 
pay some sort of homage to public faith ; and even robbers, 
who are the enemies of virtue in the great society, pay 
some respect to the shadow of it in their secret caves. 

In establishing the general will as the first principle of 
public economy, and the fundamental rule of government, 
I have not thought it necessary to inquire seriously whether 
the Magistrates belong to the people, or the people to the 
Magistrates ; or whether in public affairs the good of the 
State should be taken into account, or only that of its 
rulers. That question indeed has long been decided one 
way in theory, and another in practice ; and in general it 
would be ridiculous to expect that those who are in fact 
masters will prefer any other interest to their own. It 
would not be improper, therefore, further to distinguish 
public economy as popular or tyrannical. The former is 
that of every State, in which there reigns between the 
people and the rulers unity of interest and will : the latter 
will necessarily exist wherever the government and the 
people have different interests, and, consequently, opposing 
wills. The rules of the latter are written at length in the 
archives of history, and in the satires of Macchiavelli. 
The rules of the former are found only in the writings of 
those philosophers who venture to proclaim the rights of 

I. The first and most important rule of legitimate or 
popular government, that is to say, of government whose 
object is the good of the people, is therefore, as I have 
observed, to follow in everything the general will. But to 
follow this will it is necessary to know it, and above all to 
distinguish it from the particular will, beginning with one s 
self : this distinction is always very difficult to make, and 
only the most sublime virtue can afford sufficient illumina- 

256 A Discourse on Political Economy 

tion for it. As, in order to will, it is necessary to be free, 
a difficulty no less great than the former arises that oi 
preserving" at once the public liberty and the authority of 
government. Look into the motives which have induced 
men, once united by their common needs in a general 
society, to unite themselves still more intimately by means 
of civil societies : you will find no other motive than thai 
of assuring the property, life and liberty of each member 
by the protection of all. But can men be forced to defend 
the liberty of any one among them, without trespassing 
on that of others? And how can they provide for the 
public needs, without alienating the individual property of 
those who are forced to contribute to them? With what 
ever sophistry all this may be covered over, it is certair 
that if any constraint can be laid on my will, I am nc 
longer free, and that I am no longer master of my own 
property, if any one else can lay a hand on it. This diffi 
culty, which would have seemed insurmountable, has beer 
removed, like the first, by the most sublime of all human 
institutions, or rather by a divine inspiration, which 
teaches mankind to imitate here below the unchangeable 
decrees of the Deity. By what inconceivable art has a 
means been found of making men free by making them 
subject ; of using in the service of the State the pro 
perties, the persons and even the lives of all its members, 
without constraining and without consulting them ; of 
confining their will by their own admission ; of overcoming 
their refusal by that consent, and forcing them to punish 
themselves, when they act against their own will? How 
can it be that all should obey, yet nobody take upon him 
to command, and that all should serve, and yet have no 
masters, but be the more free, as, in apparent subjection, 
each loses no part of his liberty but what might be hurtful 
to that of another? These wonders are the work of law. 
It is to law alone that "rrftJii iHVt justice and liEertyT" It Ts 

this salutary organ of the will of all which establishes, in 
civil right, the natural equality between men. It is this 
celestial voice which dictates to each citizen the precepts 
of public reason, and teaches him to act according to the 
rules of his own judgment, and not to behave inconsist 
ently with himself. It is with this voice alone that political 
rulers should speak when they command ; for no sooner 

A Discourse on Political Economy 257 

does one man, setting- aside the law, claim to subject 
another to his private will, than he departs from the state 
of civil society, and confronts him face to face in the pure 
tate of nature, in which obedience is prescribed solely 
jy necessity. 

The most pressing interest of the ruler, and even his 
most indispensable duty, therefore, is to watch over the 
observation of the laws of which he is the minister, and 
on which his whole authority is founded. At the same 
time, if he exacts the observance of them from others, he 
s the more strongly bound to observe them himself, since 
le enjoys all their favour. For his example is of such 
brce, that even if the people were willing to permit him 
:o release himself from the yoke of the law, he ought to 
36 cautious in availing himself of so dangerous a pre- 
ogative, which others might soon claim to usurp in 
heir turn, and often use to his prejudice. At bottom, as 
all social engagements are mutual in nature, it is impos 
sible for any one to set himself above the law, without 
renouncing its advantages ; for nobody is bound by any 
obligation to one who claims that he is under no obliga- 
ions to others. For this reason no exemption from the 
aw will ever be granted, on any ground whatsoever, in 
a well-regulated government. Those citizens who have 
deserved well of their country ought to be rewarded with 
lonours, but never with privileges : for the Republic is at 
the eve of its fall, when any one can think it fine not to 
obey the laws. If the nobility or the soldiery should ever 
adopt such a maxim, all would be lost beyond redemption. 
The power of the laws depends still more on their own 
wisdom than on the severity of their administrators, and 
:he public will derives its greatest weight from the reason 
which has dictated it. Hence Plato looked upon it as a 
ery necessary precaution to place at the head of all edicts 
a preamble, setting forth their justice and utility. In fact, 
the first of all laws is to respect the laws : the severity 
of penalties is only a vain resource, invented by little 
minds in order to substitute terror for that respect which 
they have no means of obtaining. It has constantly been 
observed that in those countries where legal punishments 
are most severe, they are also most frequent; so that the 
ruelty of such punishments is a proof only of the multi- 

TT 660 

258 A Discourse on Political Economy 

tude of criminals, and, punishing everything with equal 
severity, induces those who are guilty to commit crimes, 
in order to escape being punished for their faults. 

OBut though the government be not master of the law, it 
s much to be its guarantor, and to possess a thousand 
neans of inspiring the love of it. In this alone the talent 
>f reigning consists. With force in one s hands, there is 
no art required to make the whole world tremble, nor 
indeed much to gain men s hearts; for experience has 
long since taught the people to give its rulers great 
credit for all the evil they abstain from doing it, and to 
adore them if they do not absolutely hate it. A fool, if he 
be obeyed, may punish crimes as well as another : but the 
^Ttrue statesman is he who knows how to prevent them : 
jit is over the wills, even more than the actions, of his 
subjects that his honourable rule is extended. If he 
could secure that every one should act aright, he would 
no longer have anything to do ; and the masterpiece of his 
labours would be to be able to remain unemployed. It is 
certain, at least, that the greatest talent a ruler can 
possess is to disguise his power, in order to render it less 
odious, and to conduct the State so peaceably as to make 
it seem to have no need of conductors. 

1 conclude, therefore, that, as the first duty of the 
legislator is to make the laws conformable to the general 
will, the first rule of public economy is that the adminis 
tration of justice should be conformable to the laws. It 
will even be enough to prevent<~the State from being i\, 
governed, that the Legislator shall have provided, as h( 
should, for every need of place, climate, soil, custom 
neighbourhood, and all the rest of the relations peculiai 
to the people he had to institute. Not but what there stil 
remains an infinity of details of administration and eco 
nomy, which are left to the wisdom of the government : 
but there are two infallible rules for its good conduct or 
these occasions ; one is, that the spirit of the law ough 
to decide in every particular case that could not be fore 
seen ; the other is that the general will, the source am 
supplement of all laws, should be consulted wherever the} 
fail. But how, I shall be asked, can the general will b< 
known in cases in which it has not expressed itself? Mus 
the whole nation be assembled together at every unforeseei 

A Discourse on Political Economy 259 

vent? Certainly not. It ought the less to be assembled, 
jecause it is by no means certain that its decision would 
be the expression of the general will ; besides, the method 
would be impracticable in a great people, and is hardly 
sver necessary where the government is well-intentioned : 
r or the rulers well know that the general will is always on 
the side which is most favourable to the public interest; 
that is to say, most equitable ; so that it is needful only 
to act justly, to be certain of following the general will. 
When this is flouted too openly, it makes itself felt, in 
spite of the formidable restraint of the public authority. I 
shall cite the nearest possible examples that may be 
: ollowed in such cases. 

In China, it is the constant maxim of the Prince to 
decide against his officers, in every dispute that arises 
Detween them and the people. If bread be too dear in any 
srovince, the Intendant of that province is throvyn into 
Drison. If there be an insurrection in another, the 
overnor is dismissed, and every Mandarin answers with 
lis head for all the mischief that happens in his depart 
ment. Not that these affairs do not subsequently undergo 
a regular examination; but long experience has caused the 
udgment to be thus anticipated. There is seldom any 
njustice to be repaired ; in the meantime, the Emperor, 
Deing satisfied that public outcry does not arise without 
:ause, always discovers, through the seditious clamours 
which he punishes, just grievances to redress. 

It is a great thing to preserve the rule of peace and 
arder through all the parts of the Republic ; it is a great 
thing that the State should be tranquil, and the law 
respected : but if nothing more is done, there will be in 
all this more appearance than reality ; for that govern 
ment which confines itself to mere obedience will find 
difficulty in getting itself obeyed. If it is good to know 
low to deal with men as they are, it is much better to~ ^ 
make them what there is need that they should be. The I 
most absolute authority is that which penetrates into a \ 
man s inmost being, and concerns itself no less with his * 
will than with his actions. It is certain that all peoples 
jecome in the long run what the government makes 
them ; warriors, citizens, men, when it so pleases ; or 
nerely populace and rabble, when it chooses to make 

260 A Discourse on Political Economy 

them so. Hence every prince who despises his subjects, 
dishonours himself, in confessing that he does not know 
how to make them worthy of respect. Make men, there 
fore, if you would command men : if you would have them 
obedient to the laws, make them love the laws, and then 
they will need only to know what is their duty to do it. 
This was the great art of ancient governments, in those 
distant times when philosophers gave laws to men, and 
made use of their authority only to render them wise 
and happy. Thence arose the numerous sumptuary laws, 
the many regulations of morals, and all the public rules 
of conduct which were admitted or rejected with the great 
est care. Even tyrants did not forget this important part 
of administration, but took as great pains to corrupt 
the morals of their slaves, as Magistrates took to correct 
those of their fellow-citizens. But our modern govern 
ments, which imagine they have done everything when 
they have raised money, conceive that it is unnecessary 
and even impossible to go a step further. 

:* II. The second essential rule of public economy is nc 
less important than the first. If you would have the 
general will accomplished, bring all the particular wills 
into conformity with it; in other words, as virtue is 
nothing more than this conformity of the particular wills 
with the general will, establish the reign of virtue. 

If our politicians were less blinded by their ambition, 
they would see how impossible it is for any establishment 
whatever to act in the spirit of its institution, unless it 
is guided in accordance with the law of duty ; they would 
feel that the greatest support of public authority lies in 
the hearts of the citizens, and that nothing can take the 
place of morality in the maintenance of government. It is 
not only upright men who know how to administer the 
laws ; but at bottom only good men know how to obej 
them. The man who once gets the better of remorse, wili 
not shrink before punishments which are less severe, anc 
less lasting, and from which there is at least the hope oi 
escaping : whatever precautions are taken, those who onl) 
require impunity in order to do wrong will not fail to fine 
means of eluding the law, and avoiding its penalties. Ir 
this case, as all particular interests unite against the 
general interest, which is no longer that of any individual. 

A Discourse on Political Economy 261 

rmblic vices have a greater effect in enervating the laws 
:han the laws in the repression of such vices : so that the 
corruption of the people and of their rulers will at length 
extend to the government, however wise it may be. The 
worst of all abuses is to pay an apparent obedience to the 
laws, only in order actually to break them with security. 
For in this case the best laws soon become the most per 
nicious ; and it would be a hundred times better that they 
should not exist. In such a situation, it is vain to add 
edicts to edicts and regulations to regulations. Every 
thing serves only to introduce new abuses, without correct 
ing the old. The more laws are multiplied, the more they 
are despised, and all the new officials appointed to super 
vise them are only so many more people to break them, 
and either to share the plunder with their predecessors, or 
to plunder apart on their own. The reward of virtue soon 
becomes that of robbery ; the vilest of men rise to the 
greatest credit; the greater they are the more despicable 
they become ; their infamy appears even in their dignities, 
and their very honours dishonour them. If they buy 
the influence of the leaders or the protection of women, 
it is only that they may sell justice, duty, and the State 
in their turn : in the meantime, the people, feeling that 
its vices are not the first cause of its misfortunes, 
murmurs and complains that all its misfortunes come 
solely from those whom it pays to protect it from such 

It is under these circumstances that the voice of duty no 
longer speaks in men s hearts, and their rulers are obliged 
to substitute the cry of terror, or the lure of an apparent 
interest, of which they subsequently trick their creatures. 
In this situation they are compelled to have recourse to all 
the petty and despicable shifts which they call rules of 
State and mysteries of the cabinet. All the vigour that 
is left in the government is used by its members in 
ruining and supplanting one another, while the public busi 
ness is neglected, or is transacted only as personal interest 
requires and directs. In short, the whole art of those 
great politicians lies in so mesmerising those they stand 
in need of, that each may think he is labouring for his 
own interest in working for theirs : I say theirs on the 
false supposition that it is the real interest of rulers to 

262 A Discourse on Political Economy 

annihilate a people in order to make it subject, and to 
ruin their own property in order to secure their possession 
of it. 

jut when the citizens love their duty,jmdj:he guardians 
of~the public authority sincerely appiy~themselves to the 
^ fostering of that love by their own example and assiduity, 
every difficulty vanishes ; and government becomes sc 
easy that it needs none of that art of darkness, whose 
blackness is its only mystery. Those enterprising spirits, 
so dangerous and so much admired, all those great minis 
ters, whose glory is inseparable from the miseries of the 
people, are no longer regretted : public morality supplies 
what is wanting in the genius of the rulers ; and the more 
virtue reigns, the less need there is for talent. Ever 
ambition is better served by duty than by usurpation : 
when the people is convinced that its rulers are labouring 
only for its happiness, its deference saves them the troubk 
of labouring to strengthen their power : and history shows 
us, in a thousand cases, that the authority of one whc 
is beloved over those whom he loves is a hundred times 
more absolute than all the tyranny of usurpers. This does 
not mean that the government ought to be afraid to make 
use of its power, but that it ought to make use of it onh 
in a lawful manner. We find in history a thousanc 
examples of pusillanimous or ambitious rulers, who were 
ruined by their slackness or their pride; not one who suf 
fered for having been strictly just. But we ought not 
to confound negligence with moderation, or clemency witr. 
weakness. To be just, it is necessary to be severe ; tc 
permit vice, when one has the right and the power tc 
suppress it, is to be oneself vicious. 

r I-t is not enough to say to the citizens, be good; the) 
I must be taught to be so ; and even example, which is in this 
1 respect the first lesson, is not the sole means to be em 
ployed ; patriotism is the most efficacious : for, as I have 
said already, every man is virtuous when his particulai 
will is in all things conformable to the general will, and we 
voluntarily will what is willed by those whom we love. Ii 
appears that the feeling of humanity evaporates and grows 
feeble in embracing all mankind, and that we cannot b( 
affected by the calamities of Tartary or Japan, in the same 
manner as we are by those of European nations. It is 
necessary in some degree to confine and limit our interest 

A Discourse on Political Economy 263 

264 A Discourse on Political Economy 

Do we wish men to be virtuous? Then let us begin 
by making them love their country : but how can they 
love it, if their country be nothing more to them than 
to strangers, and afford them nothing but what it can 
refuse nobody? It would be still worse, if they did not 
enjoy even the privilege of social security, and if their 
lives, liberties and property lay at the mercy of persons 
in power, without their being permitted, or it being 
possible for them, to get relief from the laws. For in 
that case, being subjected to the duties of the state of 
civil society, without enjoying even the common privileges 
of the state of nature, and without being able to use their 
strength in their own defence, they would be in the worst 
condition in which freemen could possibly find themselves, 
and the word country would mean for them something 
merely odious and ridiculous. It must not be imagined 
that a man can break or lose an arm, without the pain 
being conveyed to his head : nor is it any more credible that 
the general will should consent that any one member of 
the State, whoever he might be, should wound or destroy 
another, than it is that the fingers of a man in his senses 
should wilfully scratch his eyes out. The security of indi 
viduals is so intimately connected with the public con 
federation that, apart from the regard that must be paid 
to human weakness, that -convention would in point of right 
be dissolved, if in the State a single citizen who might 
have been relieved were allowed to perish, or if one were 
wrongfully confined in prison, or if in one case an obviously 
unjust sentence were given. For the fundamental con 
ventions being broken, it is impossible to conceive of any 
right or interest that could retain the people in the social 
union ; unless they were restrained by force, which alone 
causes the dissolution of the state of civil society. 

In fact, does not the undertaking entered into by the 
whole body of the nation bind it to provide for the security 
of the least of its members with as much care as for that 
of all the rest? Is the welfare of a single citizen any less 
the common cause than that of the whole State? It may 
be said that it is good that one should perish for all. I 
am ready to admire such a saying when it comes from the 
lips of a virtuous and worthy patriot, voluntarily and 
utifully sacrificing himself for the good of his country : 

A Discourse on Political Economy 265 

but if we are to understand by it, that it is lawful for the 
government to sacrifice an innocent man for the good of 
the multitude, I look upon it as one of the most execrable 
rules tyranny ever invented, the greatest falsehood that 
can be advanced, the most dangerous admission that can 
be made, and a direct contradiction of the fundamental 
laws of society. So little is it the case that any one person 
ought to perish for all, that all have pledged their lives 
and properties for the defence of each, in order that the 
weakness of individuals may always be protected by the 
strength of the public, and each member by the whole- 
State. Suppose we take from the whole people one indi 
vidual after another, and then press the advocates of this 
rule to explain more exactly what they mean by the body 
of the State, and we shall see that it will at length be 
reduced to a small number of persons, who are not the 
people, but the officers of the people, and who, having 
bound themselves by personal oath to perish for the welfare 
of the people, would thence infer that the people is to 
perish for their own. 

Need we look for examples of the protection which 
the State owes to its members, and the respect it owes tc 
their persons? It is only among the most illustrious 
and courageous nations that they are to be found ; it is 
only among free peoples that the dignity of man is 
realised. It is well known into- what perplexity the whole 
republic of Sparta was thrown, when the question of 
punishing a guilty citizen arose. 

In Macedon, the life of a man was a matter of such 
importance, that Alexander the Great, at the height of his 
glory, would not have dared to put a Macedonian criminal 
to death in cold blood, till the accused had appeared to 
make his defence before his fellow-citizens, and had been 
condemned by them. But the Romans distinguished them 
selves above all other peoples by the regard which their 
government paid to the individual, and by its scrupulous 
attention to the preservation of the inviolable rights of all 
the members of the State. Nothing was so sacred 
among them as the life of a citizen ; and no less than an 
assembly of the whole people was needed to condemn one. 
Not even the Senate, nor the Consuls, in all their majesty, 
possessed the right; but the crime and punishment of a 

266 A Discourse on Political Economy 

citizen were regarded as a public calamity among the most 
powerful people in the world. So hard indeed did it seem 
to shed blood for any crime whatsoever, that by the Lex 
Porcia, the penalty of death was commuted into that of 
banishment for all those who were willing to survive the 
loss of so great a country. Everything both at Rome, and 
in the Roman armies, breathed that love of fellow-citizens 
one for another, and that respect for the Roman name, 
which raised the courage and inspired the virtue of every 
one who had the honour to bear it. The cap of a citizen 
delivered from slavery, the civic crown of him who had 
saved the life of another, were looked upon with the 
greatest pleasure amid the pomp of their triumphs ; and 
it is remarkable that among the crowns which were 
bestowed in honour of splendid actions in war, the civic 
crown and that of the triumphant general alone were of 
laurel, all the others being merely of gold. It was thus 
that Rome was virtuous and became the mistress of the 
world. Ambitious rulers ! A herdsman governs his dogs 
and cattle, and yet is only the meanest of mankind. If it 
be a fine thing to command, it is when those who obey 
us are capable of doing us honour. Show respect, there 
fore, to your fellow-citizens, and you will render yourselves 
worthy of respect ; show respect to liberty, and your power 
will increase daily. Never exceed your rights, and they 
will soon become unlimited. 

Let our country then show itself the common mother of 
her citizens ; let the advantages they enjoy in their country 
endear it to them ; let the government leave them enough 
share in the public administration to make them feel that 
they are at home ; and let the laws be in their eyes only 
the guarantees of the common liberty. These rights, 
great as they are, belong to all men : but without seeming 
to attack them directly, the ill-will of rulers may in fact 
easily reduce their effect to nothing. The law, which they 
thus abuse, serves the powerful at once as a weapon of 
offence, and as a shield against the weak ; and the pretext 
of the public good is always the most dangerous scourge 
of the people. What is most necessary, and perhaps 
most difficult, in government, is rigid integrity in doing 
strict justice to all, and above all in protecting the poor 
against the tyranny of the rich. The greatest evil has 

A Discourse on Political Economy 267 

already come about, when there are poor men to be de 
fended, and rich men to be restrained. It is on the middle 
classes alone that the whole force of the law is exerted ; 
they are equally powerless against the treasures of the rich 
and the penury of the poor. The first mocks them, the 
second escapes them. The one breaks the meshes, the 
other passes through them. 

It is therefore one of the most important functions ot 
government to prevent extreme inequality of fortunes ; not 
by taking away wealth from its possessors, but by 
depriving all men of means to accumulate it ; not by 
building hospitals for the poor, but by securing the 
citizens from becoming poor. The unequal distribution of 
inhabitants over the territory, when men are crowded 
together in one place, while other places are depopulated ; 
the encouragement of the arts that minister to luxury and 
of purely industrial arts at the expense of useful and 
laborious crafts ; the sacrifice of agriculture to commerce ; 
the necessitation of the tax-farmer by the mal-administra- 
tion of the funds of the State; and in short, venality 
pushed to such an extreme that even public esteem is 
reckoned at a cash value, and virtue rated at a market 
price : these are the most obvious causes of opulence and 
of poverty, of public interest, of mutual hatred among 
citizens, of indifference to the common cause, of the 
corruption of the people, and of the weakening of all the 
springs of government. Such are the evils, which are 
with difficulty cured when they make themselves felt, but 
which a wise administration ought to pVevent, if it is to 
maintain, along with good morals, respect for the laws, 
patriotism, and the influence of the general will. 

But all these precautions will be inadequate, unless 
rulers go still more to the root of the matter. I conclude 
this part of public economy where I ought to have begun 
it. There can be no patriotism without liberty, no liberty 
without virtue, no virtue without citizens ; create citizens, 
and you have everything you need; without them, you will 
have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the 
State downwards. To form citizens is not the work of a 
day ; and in order to have men it is necessary to educate 
them when they are children. It will be said, perhaps, 
that whoever has men to govern, ought not to seek, beyond 

268 A Discourse on Political Economy 

their nature, a perfection of which they are incapable ; 
that he ought not to desire to destroy their passions; and 
that the execution of such an attempt is no more desirable 
than it is possible. I will agree, further, that a man 
without passions would certainly be a bad citizen ; but it 
must be agreed also that, if men are not taught not to love 
some things, it is impossible to teach them to love one 
object more than another to prefer that which is truly 
beautiful to that which is deformed. If, for example, they 
were early accustomed to regard their individuality only 
in its relation to the body of the State, and to be aware, 
so to speak, of their own existence merely as a part of 
that of the State, they might at length come to identify 
themselves in some degree with this greater whole, to feel 
themselves members of their country, and to love it with 
that exquisite feeling which no isolated person has save for 
himself ; to lift up their spirits perpetually to this great 
object, and thus to transform into a sublime virtue that 
dangerous disposition which gives rise to all our vices. 
Not only does philosophy demonstrate the possibility of 
giving feeling these new directions ; history furnishes us 
with a thousand striking examples. If they are so rare 
among us moderns, it is because nobody troubles himself 
whether citizens exist or not, and still less does anybody 
think of attending to the matter soon enough to make them. 
It is too late to change our natural inclinations, when they 
have taken their course, and egoism is confirmed by habit : 
it is too late to lead us out of ourselves when once the 
human Ego, concentrated in our hearts, has acquired that 
contemptible activity which absorbs all virtue and consti 
tutes the life and being of little minds. How can 
patriotism germinate in the midst of so many other 
passions which smother it? And what can remain, for 
fellow-citizens, of a heart already divided between avarice, 
a mistress, and vanity? 

From the first moment of life, men ought to begin 
learning to deserve to live ; and, as at the instant of birth 
we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to 
be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are 
laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for 
infancy, teaching obedience to others : and as the reason 
of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, 

A Discourse on Political Economy 269 

government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon 
to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education 
of their children, as that education is of still greater 
importance to the State than to the fathers : for, according 
to the course of nature, the death of the father often 
deprives him of the final fruits of education ; but his 
country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families 
dissolve, but the State remains. 

Should the public authority, by taking the place of the 
father, and charging itself with that important function, 
acquire his rights by discharging his duties, he would have 
the less cause to complain, as he would only be changing 
his title, and would have in common, under the name of 
citizen, the same authority over his children, as he was 
exercising separately under the name of father, and would 
not be less obeyed when speaking in the name of the law, 
than when he spoke in that of nature. Public education, 
therefore, under regulations prescribed by the government, 
and under magistrates established by the Sovereign, is 
one of the fundamental rules of popular 01 legitimate 
government. If children are brought up hi common in the 
bosom of equality; if they are imbued with the laws of 
the State and the precepts of the general will ; if they arc 
taught to respect these above all things; if they are 
surrounded by examples and objects which constantly 
remind them of the tender mother who nourishes them, 
of the love she bears them, of the inestimable benefits 
they receive from her, and of the return they owe her, we 
cannot doubt that they will learn to cherish one another 
mutually as brothers, to will nothing contrary to the 
will of society, to substitute the actions of men and citizens 
for the futile and vain babbling of sophists, and to become 
in time defenders and fathers of the country of which 
they will have been so long the children. 

I shall say nothing of the Magistrates destined to 
preside over such an education, which is certainly the most 
important business of the State. It is easy to see that if 
such marks of public confidence were conferred on slight 
grounds, if this sublime function were not, for those who 
have worthily discharged all other offices, the reward of 
labour, the pleasant and honourable repose of old age, 
and the crown of all honours, the whole enterprise would 

3 A Discourse on Political Economy 

b useless and the education void of success. For where- 
ever the lesson is not supported by authority, and the 
precept by example, all instruction is fruitless ; and virtue 
itself loses its credit in the mouth of one who does not 
practise it. But let illustrious warriors, bent under the 
weight of their laurels, preach courage : let upright 
Magistrates, grown white in the purple and on the bench 
teach justice. Such teachers as these would thus get them 
selves virtuous successors, and transmit from age to age, 
to generations to come, the experience and talents of 
rulers, the courage and virtue of citizens, and common 
emulation in all to live and die for their country. 

I know of but three peoples which once practised public 
education, the Cretans, the Lacedemonians, and the 
ancient Persians : among all these it was attended with 
the greatest success, and indeed it did wonders among 
the two last. Since the world has been divided into 
nations too great to admit of being well governed, this 
method has been no longer practicable, and the reader 
will readily pirceive other reasons why such a thing has 
never been attempted by any modern people. It is very 
remarkable that the Romans were able to dispense with it ; 
but Rome was for five hundred years one continued 
miracle which the world cannot hope to see again. The 
virtue of the Romans, engendered by their horror of 
tyranny and the crimes of tyrants, and by an innate 
patriotism, made all their houses so many schools of 
citizenship ; while the unlimited power of fathers over 
their children made the individual authority so rigid that 
the father was more feared than the Magistrate, and was 
in his family tribunal both censor of morals and avenger 
of the laws. 

Thus a careful and well-intentioned government, vigilant 
incessantly to maintain or restore patriotism and morality 
among the people, provides beforehand against the evils 
which sooner or later result from the indifference of the 
citizens to the fate of the Republic, keeping within narrow 
bounds that personal interest which so isolates the indivi 
dual that the State is enfeebled by his power, and has 
nothing to hope from his good-will. Wherever men love 
their country, respect the laws, and live simply, little 
remains to be done in order to make them happy ; and in 

A Discourse on Political Economy 271 

public administration, where chance has less influence than 
in the lot of individuals, wisdom is so nearly allied to 
happiness, that the two objects are confounded. 

III. It is not enough to have citizens and to protect 
them, it is also necessary to consider their subsistence. 
Provision for the public wants is an obvious inference fron 1 
the general will, and the third essential duty of govern 
ment. This duty is not, we should feel, to fill the granaries 
of individuals and thereby to grant them a dispensation 
from labour, but to keep plenty so within their reach that 
labour is always necessary and never useless for its 
acquisition. It extends also to everything regarding the 
management of the exchequer, and the expenses of public 
administration. Having thus treated of general economy 
with reference to the government of persons, we must now 
consider it with reference to the administration of property. 

This part presents no fewer difficulties to solve, and 
contradictions to remove, than the preceding. It is 
certain that the right of property is the most sacred of all 
the rights of citizenship, and even more important in some 
respects than liberty itself; either because it more nearly 
affects the preservation of life, or because, property being 
more easily usurped and more difficult to defend than life, 
the law ought to pay a greater attention to what is most 
easily taken away ; or finally, because property is the true 
foundation of civil society, and the real guarantee of the 
undertakings of citizens : for if property were not answer 
able for personal actions, nothing would be easier 
than to evade duties and laugh at the laws. On the 
other hand, it is no less certain that the maintenance of 
the State and the government involves costs and out 
goings ; and as every one who agrees to the end must 
acquiesce in the means, it follows that the members of a 
society ought to contribute from their property to its 
support. Besides, it is difficult to secure the property of 
individuals on one side, without attacking it on another ; 
and it is impossible that all the regulations which govern 
the order of succession, will, contracts, &c. should not 
lay individuals under some constraint as to the disposition 
of their goods, and should not consequently restrict the 
right of property. 

But besides what I have said above of the agreement 

272 A Discourse on Political Economy 

between the authority of law and the liberty of the citizen, 
there remains to be made, with respect to the disposition 
of goods, an important observation which removes many 
difficulties. As Puffendorf has shown, the right of pro 
perty, by its very nature, does not extend beyond the life 
of the proprietor, and the moment a man is dead his goods 
cease to belong to him. Thus, to prescribe the conditions 
according to which he can dispose of them, is in reality less 
to alter his right as it appears, than to extend it in fact. 

In general, although the institution of the laws which 
regulate the power of individuals in the disposition of their 
own goods belongs only to the Sovereign, the spirit of 
these laws, which the government ought to follow in their 
application, is that, from father to son, and from relation 
to relation, the goods of a family should go as little out of 
it and be as little alienated as possible. There is a 
sensible reason for this in favour of children, to whom the 
right of property would be quite useless, if the father left 
them nothing, and who besides, having often contributed 
by their labour to the acquisition of their father s wealth, 
are in their own right associates with him in his right of 
property. But another reason, more distant, though 
not less important, is that nothing is more fatal to morality 
and to the Republic than the continual shifting of rank 
and fortune among the citizens : such changes are both 
the proof and the source of a thousand disorders, and 
overturn and confound everything ; for those who were 
brought up to one thing find themselves destined for 
another ; and neither those who rise nor those who fall are 
able to assume the rules of conduct, or to possess them 
selves of the qualifications requisite for their new condition, 
still less to discharge the duties it entails. I proceed to 
the object of public finance. 

If the people governed itself and there were no inter 
mediary between the administration of the State and the 
citizens, they would have no more to do than to assess 
themselves occasionally, in proportion to the public needs 
and the abilities of individuals : and as they would all keep 
in sight the recovery and employment of such assessments, 
no fraud or abuse could slip into the management of 
them ; the State would never be involved in debt, or the 
people over-burdened with taxes ; or at least the knowledge 

A Discourse on Political Economy 273 

of how the money would be used would be a consolation 
for the severity of the tax. But thing s cannot be carried 
on in this manner : on the contrary, however small any 
State may be, civil societies are always too populous to 
be under the immediate government of all their members. 
It is necessary that the public money should go through 
the hands of the rulers, all of whom have, besides the 
interests of the State, their own individual interests, 
which are not the last to be listened to. The people, on its 
side, perceiving rather the cupidity and ridiculous expendi 
ture of its rulers than the public needs, murmurs at seeing 
itself stripped of necessaries to furnish others with super 
fluities ; and when once these complaints have reached a 
certain degree of bitterness, the most upright administra 
tion will find it impossible to restore confidence. In such 
a case, voluntary contributions bring in nothing, and 
forced contributions are illegitimate. This cruel alternative 
of letting the State perish, or of violating the sacred right 
of property, which is its support, constitutes the great 
difficulty of just and prudent economy. 

The first step which the founder of a republic ought to 
take after the establishment of laws, is to settle a sufficient 
fund for the maintenance of the Magistrates and other 
Officials, and for other public expenses. This fund, if it 
consist of money, is called cerarium or fisc, and public 
demesne if it consist of lands. This, for obvious reasons, 
is much to be preferred. Whoever has reflected on this 
matter must be of the opinion of Bodin, who looks upon 
the public demesne as the most reputable and certain 
means of providing for the needs of the State. It is 
remarkable also that Romulus, in his division of lands, 
made it his first care to set apart a third for the use of the 
State. I confess it is not impossible for the produce of the 
demesne, if it be badly managed, to be reduced to nothing ; 
but it is not of the essence of public demesnes to be badly 

Before any use is made of this fund, it should be assigned 
or accepted by an assembly of the people, or of the estates 
of the country, which should determine its future use. 
After this solemnity, which makes such funds inalienable, 
their very nature is, in a manner, changed, and the revenues 
become so sacred, that it is not only the most infamous 

Y 660 

274 A Discourse on Political Economy 

theft, but actual treason, to misapply them or pervert them 
from the purpose for which they were destined. It reflects 
great dishonour on Rome that the integrity of Cato the 
censor was something so very remarkable, and that an 
Emperor, on rewarding the talents of a singer with a few 
crowns, thought it necessary to observe that the money 
came from his own private purse, and not from that of the 
State. But if we find few Galbas, where are we to look 
for a Cato? For when vice is no longer dishonourable, 
what chiefs will be so scrupulous as to abstain from 
touching the public revenues that are left to their 
discretion, and even not in time to impose on themselves, 
by pretending to confound their own expensive and scan 
dalous dissipations with the glory of the State, and the 
means of extending their own authority with the means 
of augmenting its power? It is particularly in this delicate 
part of the administration that virtue is the only effective 
instrument, and that the integrity of the Magistrate is the 
only real check upon his avarice. Books and auditing of 
accounts, instead of exposing frauds, only conceal them ; 
for prudence is never so ready to conceive new precautions 
as knavery is to elude them. Never mind, then, about 
account books and papers ; place the management of 
finance in honest hands : that is the only way to get it 
faithfully conducted. 

When public funds are once established, the rulers of 
the State become of right the administrators of them : 
for this administration constitutes a part of government 
which is always essential, though not always equally so. 
Its influence increases in proportion as that of other re 
sources is diminished ; and it may justly be said that a 
government has reached the last stage of corruption, when 
it has ceased to have sinews other than money. Now as 
every government constantly tends to become lax, this is 
enough to show why no State can subsist unless its 
revenues constantly increase. 

The first sense of the necessity of this increase is also 
the first sign of the internal disorder of the State ; 
and the prudent administrator, in his endeavours to find 
means to provide for the present necessity, will neglect 
nothing to find out the distant cause of the new need ; 
just as a mariner when he finds the water gaining on his 

A Discourse on Political Economy 275 

vessel, does not neglect, while he is working- the pumps, 
to discover and stop the leak. 

From this rule is deduced the most important rule in 
the administration of finance, which is, to take more 
pains to guard against needs than to increase revenues. 
For, whatever diligence be employed, the relief which only 
comes after, and more slowly than, the evil, always leaves 
some injury behind. While a remedy is being found 
for one evil, another is beginning to make itself felt, and 
even the remedies themselves produce new difficulties : so 
that at length the nation is involved in debt and the people 
oppressed, while the government loses its influence 
and can do very little with a great deal of money. I 
imagine it was owing to the recognition of this rule that 
such wonders were done by ancient governments, which 
did more with their parsimony than ours do with all their 
treasures ; and perhaps from this comes the common use 
of the word economy, which means rather the prudent 
management of what one has than ways of getting what 
one has not. 

But apart from the public demesne, which is of service 
to the State in proportion to the uprightness of those who 
govern, any one sufficiently acquainted with the whole 
force of the general administration, especially when it 
confines itself to legitimate methods, would be astonished 
at the resources the rulers can make use of for guarding 
against public needs, without trespassing on the goods of 
individuals. As they are masters of the whole commerce 
of the State, nothing is easier for them than to direct 
it into such channels as to provide for every need, without 
appearing to interfere. The distribution of provisions, 
money, and merchandise in just proportions, according to 
times and places, is the true secret of finance and the 
source of wealth, provided those who administer it have 
foresight enough to suffer a present apparent loss, in 
order really to obtain immense profits in the future. 
When we see a government paying bounties, instead of 
receiving duties, on the exportation of corn in time of 
plenty, and on its importation in time of scarcity, we must 
have such facts before our eyes if we are to be persuaded 
of their reality. We should hold such facts to be idle tales, 
if they had happened in ancient times. Let us suppose 

276 A Discourse on Political Economy 

that, in order to prevent a scarcity in bad years, a 
proposal were made to establish public granaries ; would 
not the maintenance of so useful an institution serve in 
most countries as an excuse for new taxes? At Geneva, 
such granaries, established and kept up by a prudent 
administration, are a public resource in bad years, and 
the principal revenue of the State at all times. Alit et 
ditat is the inscription which stands, rightly and properly, 
on the front of the building. To set forth in this place 
the economic system of a good government, I have often 
turned my eyes to that of this Republic, rejoicing to find 
in my own country an example of that wisdom and 
happiness which I should be glad to see prevail in every 

If we ask how the needs of a State grow, we shall find 
they generally arise, like the wants of individuals, less 
from any real necessity than from the increase of useless 
desires, and that expenses are often augmented only to 
give a pretext for raising receipts : so that the State would 
sometimes gain by not being rich, and apparent wealth 
is in reality more burdensome than poverty itself would 
be. Rulers may indeed hope to keep the peoples in stricter 
dependence, by thus giving them with one hand what they 
take from them with the other ; and this was in fact the 
policy of Joseph towards the Egyptians : but this political 
sophistry is the more fatal to the State, as the money 
never returns into the hands it went out of. Such 
principles only enrich the idle at the expense of the 

A desire for conquest is one of the most evident and 
dangerous causes of this increase. This desire, occasioned 
often by a different species of ambition from that which 
it seems to proclaim, is not always what it appears to be, 
and has not so much, for its real motive, the apparent 
desire to aggrandise the Nation as a secret desire to 
increase the authority of the rulers at home, by increasing 
.the number of troops, and by the diversion which the 
objects of war occasion in. the minds of the citizens. 

It is at least certain, that no peoples are so oppressed 
and wretched as conquering nations, and that their suc 
cesses only increase their misery. Did not history inform 
us of the fact, reason would suffice to tell us that, the 

A Discourse on Political Economy 277 

greater a State grows, the heavier and more burdensome 
in proportion its expenses become : for every province has 
to furnish its share to the general expense of government, 
and besides has to be at the expense of its own adminis 
tration, which is as great as if it were really independent. 
Add to this that great fortunes are always acquired in 
one place and spent in another. Production therefore 
soon ceases to balance consumption, and a whole country 
is impoverished merely to enrich a single town. 

Another source of the increase of public wants, which 
depends on the foregoing, is this. There may come a 
time when the citizens, no longer looking upon themselves 
as interested in the common cause, will cease to be the 
defenders of their country, and the Magistrates will prefer 
the command of mercenaries to that of free-men ; if for 
no other reason than that, when the time comes, they may 
use them to reduce free-men to submission. Such was the 
state of Rome towards the end of the Republic and under 
the Emperors : for all the victories of the early Romans, 
like those of Alexander, had been won by brave citizens, 
who were ready, at need, to give their blood in the service 
of their country, but would never sell it. Only at the siege 
of Veii did the practice of paying the Roman infantry 
begin. Marius, in the Jugurthine war, dishonoured the 
legions by introducing freedmen, vagabonds and other 
mercenaries. Tyrants, the enemies of the very people it 
was their duty to make happy, maintained regular troops, 
apparently to withstand the foreigner, but really to enslave 
their countrymen. To form such troops, it was necessary 
to take men from the land ; the lack of their labour then, 
diminished the amount of provisions, and their mainten 
ance introduced those taxes which increased prices. This 
first disorder gave rise to murmurs among the people ; in 
order to suppress them, the number of troops had to be 
increased, and consequently the misery of the people 
also got worse ; and the growing despair led to still 
further increases in the cause in order to guard against 
its effects. On the other hand, the mercenaries, whose 
merit we may judge of by the price at which they sold 
themselves, proud of their own meanness, and despising 
the laws that protected them, as well as their fellows 
whose bread they ate, imagined themselves more honoured 

278 A Discourse on Political Economy 

in being Caesar s satellites than in being defenders of 
Rome. As they were given over to blind obedience, their 
swords were always at the throats of their fellow-citizens, 
and they were prepared for general butchery at the first 
sign. It would not be difficult to show that this was one 
of the principal causes of the ruin of the Roman Empire. 

The invention of artillery and fortifications has forced 
the princes of Europe, in modern times, to return to the 
use of regular troops, in order to garrison their towns ; but, 
however lawful their motives, it is to be feared the effect 
may be no less fatal. There is no better reason now than 
formerly for depopulating the country to form armies and 
garrisons, nor should the people be oppressed to support 
them ; in a word, these dangerous establishments have 
increased of late years with such rapidity in this part of 
the world, that they evidently threaten to depopulate 
Europe, and sooner or later to ruin its inhabitants. 

Be this as it may, it ought to be seen that such institu 
tions necessarily subvert the true economic system, which 
draws the principal revenue of the State from the public 
demesne, and leave only the troublesome resource of 
subsidies and imposts ; with which it remains to deal. 

It should be remembered that the foundation of the 
social compact is property ; and its first condition, that 
every one should be maintained in the peaceful possession 
of what belongs to him. It is true that, by the same 
treaty, every one binds himself, at least tacitly, to be 
assessed toward the public wants : but as this undertaking 
cannot prejudice the fundamental law, and presupposes 
that the need is clearly recognised by all who contribute 
to it, it is plain that such assessment, in order to be lawful, 
must be voluntary; it must depend, not indeed on a parti 
cular will, as if it were necessary to have the consent of 
each individual, and that he should give no more than just 
what he pleased, but on a general will, decided by vote of a 
majority, and on the basis of a proportional rating- which 
leaves nothing arbitrary in the imposition of the tax. 

That taxes cannot be legitimately established except 
by the consent of the people or its representatives, is a 
truth generally admitted by all philosophers and jurists of 
any repute on questions of public right, not even except 
ing Bodin. If any of them have laid down rules which 

A Discourse on Political Economy 279 

seem to contradict this, their particular motives for doing 
so may easily be seen ; and they introduce so many condi 
tions and restrictions that the argument comes at bottom 
to the same thing : for whether the people has it in its 
power to refuse, or the Sovereign ought not to exact, is a 
matter of indifference with regard to right ; and if the 
point in question concerns only power, it is useless to 
inquire whether it is legitimate or not. Contributions 
levied on the people are two kinds ; real, levied on commo 
dities, and personal, paid by the head. Both are called 
taxes or subsidies : when the people fixes the sum to be 
paid, it is called subsidy ; but when it grants the product 
of an imposition, it is called a tax. We are told in the 
Spirit of the Laws that a capitation tax is most suited to 
slavery, and a real tax most in accordance with liberty. 
This would be incontestable, if the circumstances of every 
person were equal ; for otherwise nothing can be more 
disproportionate than such a tax ; and it is in the observa 
tions of exact proportions that the spirit of liberty consists. 
But if a tax by heads were exactly proportioned to the 
circumstances of individuals, as what is called the capita 
tion tax in France might be, is would be the most equitable 
and consequently the most proper for free-men. 

These proportions appear at first very easy to note, 
because, being relative to each man s position in the world, 
their incidence is always public : but proper regard is 
seldom paid to all the elements that should enter into such 
a calculation, even apart from deception arising from 
avarice, fraud and self-interest. In the first place, we 
have to consider the relation of quantities, according to 
which, ceteris paribus, the person who has ten times the 
property of another man ought to pay ten times as much 
to the State. Secondly, the relation of the use made, that 
is to say, the distinction between necessaries and super 
fluities. He who possesses only the common necessaries 
of life should pay nothing at all, while the tax on him 
who is in possession of superfluities may justly be extended 
to everything he has over and above mere necessaries. 
To this he will possibly object that, when his rank is taken 
into account, what may be superfluous to a man of inferior 
station is necessary for him. But this is false : for a 
grandee has two legs just like a cow-herd, and, like him 

280 A Discourse on Political Economy 

again, but one belly. Besides, these pretended necessaries 
are really so little necessary to his rank, that if he should 
renounce them on any worthy occasion, he would only be 
the more honoured. The populace would be ready to 
adore a Minister who went to Council on foot, because 
he had sold off his carriages to supply a pressing need of 
the State. Lastly, to no man does the law prescribe 
magnificence ; and propriety is no argument against right. 
A third relation, which is never taken into account, 
though it ought to be the chief consideration, is the 
advantage that every person derives from the social 
confederacy ; for this provides a powerful protection for the 
immense possessions of the rich, and hardly leaves the 
poor man in quiet possession of the cottage he builds with 
his own hands. Are not all the advantages of society for 
the rich and powerful? Are not all lucrative posts in their 
hands? Are not all privileges and exemptions reserved for 
them alone? Is not the public authority always on their 
side? If a man of eminence robs his creditors, or is guilty 
of other knaveries, is he not always assured of impunity? 
Are not the assaults, acts of violence, assassinations, and 
even murders committed by the great, matters that are 
hushed up in a few months, and of which nothing more is 
thought? But if a great man himself is robbed or insulted, 
the whole police force is immediately in motion, and woe 
even to innocent persons who chance to be suspected. If 
he has to pass through any dangerous road, the country 
is up in arms to escort him. If the axle-tree of his chaise 
breaks, everybody flies to his assistance. If there is a noise 
at his door, he speaks but a word, and all is silent. If he 
is incommoded by the crowd, he waves his hand and 
every one makes way. If his coach is met on the road by 
a wagon, his servants are ready to beat the driver s 
brains out, and fifty honest pedestrians going quietly about 
their business had better be knocked on the head than an 
idle jackanapes be delayed in his coach. Yet all this 
respect costs him not a farthing : it is the rich man s right, 
and not what he buys with his wealth. How different is 
the case of the poor man ! the more humanity owes him, 
the more society denies him. Every door is shut against 
him, even when he has a right to its being opened : and if 
ever he obtains justice, it is with much greater difficulty 

A Discourse on Political Economy 281 

than others obtain favours. If the militia is to be raised 
or the highway to be mended, he is always given the 
preference ; he always bears the burden which his richer 
neighbour has influence enough to get exempted from. 
On the least accident that happens to him, everybody 
avoids him : if his cart be overturned in the road, so far 
is he from receiving any assistance, that he is lucky if he 
does not get horse-whipped by the impudent lackeys of 
some young Duke ; in a word, all gratuitous assistance 
is denied to the poor when they need it, just because they 
cannot pay for it. I look upon any poor man as totally 
undone, if he has the misfortune to have an honest heart, 
a fine daughter, and a powerful neighbour. 

Another no less important fact is that the losses of the 
poor are much harder to repair than those of the rich, and 
that the difficulty of acquisition is always greater in 
proportion as there is more need for it. " Nothing comes 
out of nothing," is as true of life as in physics : money is 
the seed of money, and the first guinea is sometimes more 
difficult to acquire than the second million. Add to this 
that what the poor pay is lost to them for ever, and 
remains in, or returns to, the hands of the rich : and as, 
to those who share in the government or to their 
dependents, the whole produce of the taxes must sooner 
or later pass, although they pay their share, these persons 
have always a sensible interest in increasing them. 

The terms of the social compact between these two estates 
of men may be summed up in a few words. " You have 
need of me, because I am rich and you are poor. We 
will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to 
have the honour of serving me, on condition that you 
bestow on me the little you have left, in return for the 
pains I shall take to command you." 

Putting all these considerations carefully together, we 
shall find that, in order to levy taxes in a truly equitable 
and proportionate manner, the imposition ought not to 
be in simple ratio to the property of the contributors, but 
in compound ratio to the difference of their conditions 
and the superfluity of their possessions. This very 
important and difficult operation is daily made by numbers 
of honest clerks, who know their arithmetic; but a Plato 
or a Montesquieu would not venture to undertake it with- 

282 A Discourse on Political Economy 

out the greatest diffidence, or without praying to Heaven 
for understanding and integrity. 

Another disadvantage of personal taxes is that they may 
be too much felt or raised with too great severity. This, 
however, does not prevent them from being frequently 
evaded ; for it is much easier for persons to escape a tax 
than for their possessions. 

Of all impositions, that on land, or real taxation, 
has always been regarded as most advantageous in 
countries where more attention is paid to what the tax will 
produce, and to the certainty of recovering the product, 
than to securing the least discomfort for the people. It 
has been even maintained that it is necessary to burden 
the peasant in order to rouse him from indolence, and that 
he would never work if he had no taxes to pay. But in 
all countries experience confutes this ridiculous notion. In 
England and Holland the farmer pays very little, and in 
China nothing : yet these are the countries in which the land 
is best cultivated. On the other hand, in those countries 
where the husbandman is taxed in proportion to the 
produce of his lands, he leaves them uncultivated, or reaps 
just as much from them as suffices for bare subsistence. 
For to him who loses the fruit of his labour, it is some 
gain to do nothing. To lay a tax on industry is a very 
singular expedient for banishing idleness. 

Taxes on land or corn, especially when they are exces 
sive, lead to two results so fatal in their effect that they 
cannot but depopulate and ruin, in the long run, all 
countries in which they are established. 

The first of these arises from the defective circulation 
of specie ; for industry and commerce draw all the money 
from the country into the capitals : and as the tax destroys 
the proportion there might otherwise be between the needs 
of the husbandman and the price of his corn, money is 
always leaving and never returning. Thus the richer the 
city the poorer the country. The product of the taxes 
passes from the hands of the Prince or his financial 
officers into those of artists and traders; and the hus 
bandman, who receives only the smallest part of it, is 
at length exhausted by paying always the same, and 
receiving constantly less. How could a human body 
subsist if it had veins and no arteries, or if its arteries 

A Discourse on Political Economy 283 

conveyed the blood only within four inches of the heart? 
Chardin tells us that in Persia the royal dues on com 
modities are paid in kind : this custom, which, Herodotus 
informs us, prevailed long ago in the same country down 
to the time of Darius, might prevent the evil of which 1 
have been speaking. But unless Intendants, Directors, 
Commissioners and Warehousemen in Persia are a dif 
ferent kind of people from what they are elsewhere, I can 
hardly believe that the smallest part of this produce ever 
reaches the king, or that the corn is not spoilt in every 
granary, and the greater part of the warehouses not 
consumed by fire. 

The second evil effect arises from an apparent advan 
tage, which aggravates the evil before it can be perceived. 
That is that corn is a commodity whose price is not 
enhanced by taxes in the country producing it, and which, 
in spite of its absolute necessity, may be diminished in 
quantity without the price being increased. Hence, many 
people die of hunger, although corn remains cheap, and 
the husbandman bears the whole charge of a tax, for which 
he cannot indemnify himself by the price of his corn. 
It must be observed that we ought not to reason about 
a land-tax in the same manner as about duties laid on 
various kinds of merchandise ; for the effect of such duties 
is to raise the price, and they are paid by the buyers 
rather than the sellers. For these duties, however heavy, 
are still voluntary, and are paid by the merchant only in 
proportion to the quantity he buys ; and as he buys only 
in proportion to his sale, he himself gives the law its 
particular application ; but the farmer who is obliged to 
pay his rent at stated times, whether he sells or not, 
cannot wait till he can get his own price for his com 
modity : even if he is not forced to sell for mere subsist 
ence, he must sell to pay the taxes ; so that it is frequently 
the heaviness of the tax that keeps the price of corn low. 

It is further to be noticed that the resources of com 
merce and industry are so far from rendering the tax more 
supportable through abundance of money, that they only 
render it more burdensome. I shall not insist on what is 
very evident; i. e. that, although a greater or less quantity 
of money in a State may give it the greater or less credit 
in the eve of the foreigner, it makes not the least difference 

284 A Discourse on Political Economy 

to the real fortune of the citizens, and does not make their 
condition any more or less comfortable. But I must make 
these two important remarks : first, unless a State pos 
sesses superfluous commodities, and abundance of money 
results from foreign trade, only trading cities are sensible 
of the abundance ; while the peasant only becomes rela 
tively poorer. Secondly, as the price of everything 
is enhanced by the increase of money, taxes also must 
be proportionately increased ; so that the farmer will 
find himself still more burdened without having more 

It ought to be observed that the tax on land is a real 
duty on the produce. It is universally agreed, however, 
that nothing is so dangerous as a tax on corn paid by 
the purchaser : but how comes it we do not see that it is 
a hundred times worse when the duty is paid by the cul 
tivator himself? Is not this an attack on the substance 
of the State at its very source? Is it not the directest 
possible method of depopulating a country, and therefore 
in the end ruining- it? For the worst kind of scarcity a 
nation can suffer from is lack of inhabitants. 

Only the real statesman can rise, in imposing taxes, 
above the mere financial object : he alone can transform 
heavy burdens into useful regulations, and make the people 
even doubtful whether such establishments were not cal 
culated rather for the good of the nation in general, than 
merely for the raising of money. 

Duties on the importation of foreign commodities, of 
which the natives are fond, without the country standing 
in need of them ; on the exportation of those of the growth 
of the country which are not too plentiful, and which 
foreigners cannot do without ; on the productions of 
fiivolous and all too lucrative arts; on the importation of 
all pure luxuries ; and in general on all objects of luxury ; 
will answer the two-fold end in view. It is by such taxes, 
indeed, by which the poor are eased, and the burdens 
thrown on the rich, that it is possible to prevent the con 
tinual increase of inequality of fortune ; the subjection of 
such a multitude of artisans and useless servants to the 
rich, the multiplication of idle persons in our cities, and 
the depopulation of the country-side. 

It is important that the value of any commodity and the 

A Discourse on Political Economy 285 

duties laid on it should be so proportioned that the avarice 
of individuals may not be too strongly tempted to fraud by 
the greatness of the possible profit. To make smuggling 
difficult, those commodities should be singled out which 
are hardest to conceal. All duties should be rather paid 
by the consumer of the commodity taxed than by him 
who sells it : as the quantity of duty he would be obliged 
to pay would lay him open to greater temptations, and 
afford him more opportunities for fraud. 

This is the constant custom in China, a country where 
the taxes are greater and yet better paid than in any other 
part of the world. The merchant himself there pays no 
duty; the buyer alone, without murmuring or sedition, 
meets the whole charge ; for as the necessaries of life, such 
as rice and corn, are absolutely exempt from taxation, the 
common people is not oppressed, and the duty falls only on 
those who are well-to-do. Precautions against smuggling 
ought not to be dictated so much by the fear of it occur 
ring, as by the attention which the government should 
pay to securing individuals from being seduced by illegiti 
mate profits, which first make them bad citizens, and 
afterwards soon turn them into dishonest men. 

Heavy taxes should be laid on servants in livery, on 
equipages, rich furniture, fine clothes, on spacious courts 
and gardens, on public entertainments of all kinds, on 
useless professions, such as dancers, singers, players, and 
in a word, on all that multiplicity of objects of luxury, 
amusement and idleness, which strike the eyes of all, and 
can the less be hidden, as their whole purpose is to be 
seen, without which they would be useless. We need be 
under no apprehension of the produce of these taxes being 
arbitrary, because they are laid on things not absolutely 
necessary. They must know but little of mankind who 
imagine that, after they have been once seduced by luxury, 
they can ever renounce it : they would a hundred times 
sooner renounce common necessaries, and had much rather 
die of hunger than of shame. The increase in their 
expense is only an additional reason for supporting them, 
when the vanity of appearing wealthy reaps its profit from 
the price of the thing and the charge of the tax. As long 
as there are rich people in the world, they will be desirous 
of distinguishing themselves from the poor, nor can the 

286 A Discourse on Political Economy 

State devise a revenue less burdensome or more certain 
than what arises from this distinction. 

For the same reason, industry would have nothing to 
suffer from an economic system which increased the 
revenue, encouraged agriculture by relieving the husband 
man, and insensibly tended to bring all fortunes nearer 
to that middle condition which constitutes the genuine 
strength of the State. These taxes might, I admit, bring 
certain fashionable articles of dress and amusement to an 
untimely end ; but it would be only to substitute others, by 
which the artificer would gain, and the exchequer suffer 
no loss. In a word, suppose the spirit of government was 
constantly to tax only the superfluities of the rich, one 
of two things must happen : either the rich would convert 
their superfluous expenses into useful ones, which would 
redound to the profit of the State, and thus the imposition 
of taxes would have the effect of the best sumptuary laws, 
the expenses of the State would necessarily diminish 
with those of individuals, and the treasury would not 
receive so much less as it would gain by having less to 
pay ; or, if the rich did not become less extravagant, the 
exchequer would have such resources in the product of 
taxes on their expenditure as would provide for the needs 
of the State. In the first case the treasury would be the 
richer by what it would save, from having the less to do 
with its money ; and in the second, it would be enriched 
by the useless expenses of individuals. 

We may add to all this a very important distinction in 
matters of political right, to which governments, con 
stantly tenacious of doing everything for themselves, ought 
to pay great attention. It has been observed that per 
sonal taxes and duties on the necessaries of life, as they 
directly trespass on the right of property, and conse 
quently on the true foundation of political society, are 
always liable to have dangerous results, if they are not 
established with the express consent of the people or its 
representatives. It is not the same with articles the use 
of which we can deny ourselves ; for as the individual is 
under no absolute necessity to pay, his contribution may 
count as voluntary. The particular consent of each con 
tributor then takes the place of the general consent of the 
whole people : for why should a people oppose the imposi- 

A Discourse on Political Economy 287 

tion of a tax which falls only on those who desire to pay 
it? It appears to me certain that everything", which is not 
proscribed by law, or contrary to morality, and yet may 
be prohibited by the government, may also be permitted 
on payment of a certain duty. Thus, for example, if the 
government may prohibit the use of coaches, it may cer 
tainly impose a tax on them ; and this is a prudent and 
useful method of censuring their use without absolutely 
forbidding it.^ In,, this case, the tax may be regarded as 
a sort of finefthe product of which compensates for the 
abuse it punishes. 

It may perhaps be objected that those, whom Bodin calls 
impostors, i. e. those who impose or contrive the taxes, 
being in the class of the rich, will be far from sparing 
themselves to relieve the poor. But this is quite beside the 
point. If, in every nation, those to whom the Sovereign 
commits the government of the people, were, from their 
position, its enemies, it would not be worth while to 
inquire what they ought to do to make the people happy.